The sister of a British-Egyptian activist being held in “inhumane” conditions as a political prisoner in Egypt has said Boris Johnson could secure his release.
Sanaa Seif told Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews programme that she believes “a firm phone call” from the prime minister to the Egyptian authorities would get her brother Alaa Abd El-Fattah out of prison.
Ms Seif added that she is “confused” as to why she and other members of Mr Abd El-Fattah’s family are yet to meet with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in their campaign to get him freed.
Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a dual British-Egyptian citizen, became a prominent pro-democracy activist during the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Cairo in 2011 which led to the downfall of then president Hosni Mubarak.
He was recently sentenced to five years behind bars for sharing a Facebook post about human rights abuses in Egyptian prisons in 2019 and has been on hunger strike since last month.
Mr Abd El-Fattah has spent eight of the last ten years in prison.
Ms Seif described being “at the moment of desperation”, but also “at the moment of possibility”.
“We need the foreign secretary and I’m confused. I’m not sure why, because I can see that there is a lot of sympathy. I can see that there is support,” Ms Seif told Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby.
“We’re always in touch with the embassy, and so I’m confused as to why we haven’t met with the foreign secretary yet.”
Asked what she would ask the prime minister or foreign secretary to do to assist her brother, Ms Seif continued: “To meet with us basically, but ultimately, I know that a firm phone call from the prime minister followed by a robust negotiation from the Foreign Office would get Alaa out.
“I know that we’ve seen that with the French, we’ve seen that with the Americans and we hear from other governments, we hear from the Germans and the Americans that they give support.
“They’re in solidarity with the British in this, in getting this, in bringing this home.”
Ms Seif said she is “now hopeful more than ever” of her brother being freed, but Mr Abd El-Fattah “is not, unfortunately”.
“Alaa believes he’s going to die in prison,” she told Sky News.
“I’m hopeful. I’m really hopeful. I think it’s easy, it is simple if we get to the right people.
“I think there is precedence, we know the recipe as to how to do it. The French did it, the US did it, and UK is definitely capable of doing it. It’s just a matter of going about it the right way.”
Ms Seif added that the UK managed to ensure British-Iranian prisoners Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were freed in March despite having to negotiate with Iran which is “a hostile country”.
Reflecting on her brother’s detention, she also described how Mr Abd Ed-Fattah “became one of the main targets of the regime” in 2013 when the military took charge in Egypt.
“To them, Alaa is just a symbol and a symbol that is inspiring to a young generation. So they attack Alaa and keep putting him in prison to set an example with him,” Ms Seif said.
“Alaa was sentenced to five years for a demonstration and a demonstration he did not organise,” she continued, adding: “He came out and then they re-arrested him again and put him on new charges for a Facebook post.
“A Facebook post he did not write, a Facebook post he shared about human rights violations happening in a prison.”
Ms Seif said the last time she saw her brother was in March and that he has not been on hunger strike for the last 75 days.
She added that her sister saw Mr Abd El-Fattah last week and that he “looks very weak” and “like he is only skin and bones”.
Last month, a group of MPs and peers wrote to the foreign secretary urging her to take action to secure Mr Abd El-Fattah’s release.
A letter to Ms Truss signed by 10 MPs – including Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, Tory David Jones and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran – and 17 members of the House of Lords – says he is being held in “inhumane” conditions.
They said Mr Abd El-Fattah, father of a ten-year-old son, has been deprived for two-and-a-half years of reading materials, exercise, sunlight or bedding.
The letter called on the government to “use all means possible” to secure consular access for Mr Abd El-Fattah, insist on immediate improvements to his conditions and a transfer out of the maximum security prison.
It also asked ministers to press for his release “either within Egypt or to the UK”.
Commenting after the letter was published, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said Mr Abd El-Fattah’s treatment by the Egyptian authorities had become “increasingly cruel and degrading”.
A spokesperson at the Foreign Office said: “The UK government continues to raise Alaa Abd El-Fattah’s case at the highest levels of the Egyptian government.
“We are working urgently to secure consular access to Mr Abd El-Fattah. We are also concerned by reports that he is on a sustained hunger strike.
“The welfare of British nationals in detention remains a high priority.”