World leaders will have “blood on their hands” if Alaa Abd El-Fattah dies

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27 as it is better known, opens this Sunday, 6 November, in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh.

As has become customary, COP27 will become the focus of protest. Yet not all protests at COP27 will be about the environment.

One protester at the event, Sanaa Seif, says that the world leaders attending will have “blood on their hands” if they do not secure the release of her brother, the British-Egyptian writer and activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah. Abd El-Fattah is a pro-democracy activist and founder, with his wife Manal Hassan, of the Arabic blog aggregator Manalaa.  He has been held in the country’s prisons on and off for nine years for his part in the 25 January protests that rocked the country in 2011.

In 2013, the writer was jailed by the government of Egypt’s military ruler Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and has been in prison most of the time since where he has been both tortured and offered only limited communication with his family.

In order to bring attention to his plight, Abd El-Fattah went on a partial hunger strike on 2 April this year, limiting his intake to just 100 calories a day, sipping tea with a spoonful of honey. After six months on hunger strike, his body is seriously weakened and his health is in a precarious state. Four days ago, he stopped even that meagre daily allowance and is now taking only water.

On the opening day of COP27, he will stop even that.

Since 18 October, Sanaa and her sister Mona, have been holding a sit-in as part of their Free Alaa campaign outside the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office to draw the attention of incoming Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to their brother’s plight.

On Wednesday this week, Cleverly finally spoke to the pair and vowed that the Government would “continue to work tirelessly for his release”.

In a Facebook post, the sisters said: “We were so relieved to finally get to speak to James Cleverly and hear his assurance that Alaa’s safe release is top priority. I hope this translates to tangible action that actually saves Alaa before it is too late.”

At a press conference on the street outside the FCDO the following day, Sanaa said: “Alaa will escalate his hunger strike as he stops taking water as world leaders head to Egypt to attend COP27. I want to tell these officials that if you don’t save him you will have blood on your hands. I want to call on Rishi Sunak – you are going to be in the same land as a British person dying and if you don’t show that you care then it will be interpreted as a green light to kill him.”

Sanaa’s sister Mona added: “Alaa is in a very critical state but he is not desperate to die. These are the actions of a man who is desperate to end this ordeal he has been sucked into for nine years and desperate to be reunited with his family.”

The British-Egyptian writer and activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah in happier times with his wife and baby son Khalid

Speaking to Index, Mona said: “In the eyes of the Egyptian regime Alaa is one of the symbols of 25 January [2011 revolution] and therefore one of those calling for an end to the leadership of the military regime. In some people’s minds he is a British national. For others he is a writer, or an activist. Most importantly, he is an amazing brother and a son. And most importantly of all what seems to be forgotten is that he is a father to a 10-year-old, Khalid.”

She added: “Khalid and his father have a unique and extraordinary relationship. Khalid is on the autistic spectrum and is non-verbal. We found out his diagnosis back in 2014 when Alaa was serving his first five sentences. Alaa was briefly released in 2019, although he had to spend every night in a police cell, and Alaa and Khalid formed an amazingly strong bond. We were worried about how Khalid would receive his father because he was not used to him in his life. We were honestly surprised. He and Khalid bonded immediately. He flourished under Alaa’s presence and Khalid’s doctors and teachers all noted a massive difference.”

“When Alaa was taken again in September 2019, the one hit the hardest was Khalid. When Alaa appeared before the state security prosecution, Khalid was angry with his father for disappearing. Since then, it has been particularly difficult to sustain Alaa’s presence in Khalid’s life. A very big part of why Alaa has taken such extreme measures is that he feels Khalid has been orphaned.”

Mona and family will hold a candlelit vigil for Alaa outside Number 10 Downing Street at 4pm on 6 November. Meanwhile, Sanaa will fly out to Egypt to take part in an event with the German climate envoy, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International at COP27 next Tuesday.

“This will serve as an embarrassing reminder to everyone,” Sanaa said.

Mona has another message to the leaders attending COP27. In another Facebook post this week, she wrote the following.

“Regardless of how it ends Alaa has already won this battle. If he makes it out alive and joins us, his family, in safety. Then he would have done it using only his body and words. If he doesn’t make it and dies in prison, his body will tell the whole world what a bunch of liars you all are, ruthless inhumane creatures that should not be trusted with one plant let alone people and the future of this planet.

Egyptian government must release Alaa Abd El Fattah

Index on Censorship and IFEX members call for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah and all those unjustly detained in Egypt

The military “interim government” in Egypt is cracking down on virtually all meaningful form of assembly, association, or opposition.

Following the passage of a November 2013 law banning peaceful protest, dozens of activists and organizers have been sent to prison. Among them is Alaa Abd El Fattah, software guru, blogger and political activist.

On the night of November 28th, security forces raided Alaa’s home, beat him and his wife when asked to see their warrant, and took and held him overnight, blindfolded and handcuffed, in an unknown location. Currently, he is held at Tora Prison, Egypt’s notorious maximum security detention center, historically used to house men suspected of violent crimes and terrorism.

But Alaa is not being prosecuted for crimes of violence. A critic of repressive state practices and a staunch advocate of free information, free and open source software, and Arabic localization in the Middle East, he was one of the first Egyptian netizens facilitating a movement for political change around a simple idea: freedom of expression.

His wildly popular blog—established with his wife, Manal—helped spark a community of bloggers in the Arab World committed to the promotion of free speech and human rights. It won the Reporters Without Borders award at the 2005 Bobs. Their groundbreaking website, Omraneya, collected blog entries across the Arab World, archiving dissent in the face of repression. As put by one popular independent media outlet: “[Omraneya is] at times the house of alternative expression and at others the amplifier of muted voices.”

Following the uprising of January 25, 2011, Alaa continued to promote free expression through online platforms. He started a nation-wide peoples initiative enabling citizen collaboration in the drafting of the Egyptian Constitution. He initiated and hosted Tweet-Nadwas (“Tweet-Symposiums”), that brought activists and bloggers from across the world into Tahrir Square, to participate in open format dialogue about tough issues ranging from Islamism to Economic Reform.

Without looking down at our feet, let’s look forward and envision the perfect state; I myself don’t want a state but I know that isn’t possible. Instead, I must focus on the steps that might lead me to build the ‘good’ state.” – Alaa Abd El Fattah (Tweet Nadwa, June 14 2011).”

Alaa has been jailed or charged under every government to take power in Egypt. In 2006, when he was only 22, he was jailed by the Mubarak government. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) jailed him in 2011. Morsi brought a case against him in 2013. And he is now imprisoned by the current military government. He is not alone in this cycle of persecution. Alongside him now in prison are activists Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, and Ahmed Douma—all of whom were also targeted by Egypt’s recent regimes. Thousands of other young people are in prison or unaccounted for.

Alaa’s mother, Laila Soueif, one of the founders of the Kefaya protest movement, which is widely credited as one of the key precursors to the January 2011 uprising, commented:

Alaa is one of the most outspoken and uncompromising critics of state violence and repression of his generation. At this particular juncture, those in power are trying to sell the myth that the whole country is united behind them against the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies. The fact that Alaa, who was very vocal in his criticism of the Brotherhood while Morsi was president, is condemning – even more strongly – the current criminal behaviour of the police and the army explodes their myth. Particularly as he is not alone in taking this position. Arresting him and demonizing him in the media is a message to critics of the regime to shut up.”

The current government has already handed Alaa (together with his sister Mona Seif) a one year suspended sentence in a similar, but separate, trial. Current charges may find Alaa facing additional years. Ahmed Seif, prominent human rights lawyer and father of Alaa Abd El Fattah says:

The Prosecution has done everything in its power to impede Alaa’s appeal against his imprisonment on remand. It has been more than a month since the Prosecution completed its investigations and referred the case to the Criminal Court, but lawyers have still not been allowed access to the case file, and neither a district nor a date have been set for the trial.”

As the third anniversary of the January 25 revolution draws near, we express our concern that Alaa’s case marks a worrying trend for civil liberties in Egypt.

The undersigned demand the immediate release and a fair trial for all those unjustly detained in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory.


Electronic Frontier Foundation
ActiveWatch – Media Monitoring Agency
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Centre for Independent Journalism – Malaysia
Derechos Digitales
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Foundation for Press Freedom – FLIP
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Globe International Center
Human Rights Watch
Independent Journalism Center – Moldova
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
Journalists’ Trade Union
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa 
Media Rights Agenda
National Union of Somali Journalists
Norwegian PEN
Pacific Islands News Association 
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Public Association “Journalists”
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Rasha A. Abdulla, Ph.D., The American University in Cairo
Amir Ahmad Nasr, author of My Isl@m
Arab Digital Expression Foundation
Association for Progressive Communication
Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Global Voices Advocacy
International Federation of Journalists Asia-Pacific
Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders)
Mada Masr
Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
The Workshops (Egypt)


Advocacy nominees

Recognising campaigners or activists who have fought repression, or have struggled to challenge political climates

Alaa Abd El Fattah, blogger, Egypt

Alaa abd el fattahAlaa Abd El Fattah is at the forefront of protests against Egypt’s current military rule. Over the last 12 months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has tried to silence dissent, crushing protests, restricting the media and questioning and imprisoning activists who criticise its actions.

Abd El Fattah is one of an estimated 12,000 civilians tried by military courts since the fall of Mubarak. The blogger and activist was arrested on suspicion of inciting violence against the military during clashes between the security forces and Coptic Christians. He was jailed on 31 October 2011 after he refused to recognise the legitimacy of the military interrogators in overseeing civilian trials. He was released pending investigation on 25 December, but continues to speak out against SCAF.

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, NGO, Bahrain

BCHRThe Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has played a crucial role in documenting human rights violations, political repression and torture in the Gulf kingdom. Despite efforts to silence and discredit it, the BCHR has kept international attention on the brutal government crackdown that began last February. It has prevented the Bahrain government from whitewashing its international image, and at times when news media were severely restricted and foreign journalists barred, it acted as a crucial news source.

Former BCHR president Abdulhady al Khawaja is one of eight activists serving life sentences for peacefully protesting at the Pearl Roundabout which has since been demolished. Like many other activists he claims he has been tortured in prison. BCHR employees regularly experience threats, violence and harassment. In January 2012, BCHR president Nabeel Rajab was severely beaten by security forces while peacefully protesting.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill, QC, UK

Anthony LesterAnthony Lester is a British barrister and Liberal Democrat peer whose work in the field of human rights has transformed the legal landscape. His support for the libel reform campaign has led to one of the greatest advances for free speech in recent years in the UK, potentially transforming the most infamous and enduring chill on freedom of expression in the country. Following the introduction of Anthony Lester’s private member’s defamation bill in May 2010, the government then used it as the basis for its own bill a year later. If it becomes law this year, it will mark the end of London’s notorious reputation as “a town named sue”, the libel capital of the world, and fulfil Anthony Lester’s personal aim of providing a “catalyst for reform” in an historic moment for free speech in the UK.

Freedom of Expression Awards 2012

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