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UK MPs Call For British-Egyptian Dissident's Release

FILE - British-Egyptian activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah at his Cairo home. On July 3, 2023, his family spotlighted a call by UK MPs for Fattah's release.

LONDON — The family of jailed British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah on Monday held a vigil outside the foreign ministry in London to highlight a call by 100 British lawmakers for "fresh approaches" to secure his release.

Alaa Abdel Fattah is serving a five-year prison sentence for "spreading false news" by sharing a Facebook post about police brutality.

"Private lobbying of the Egyptian government even at the highest levels is yet to deliver results. This calls for fresh approaches," the lawmakers from the lower and upper house of the UK parliament say in a letter to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly which was submitted on Monday.

The lawmakers' letter adds that the British embassy in Cairo has been prevented from visiting Abdel Fattah in jail for the past 18 months.

The British lawmakers want the U.K. to "take the lead on a joint statement on Egypt" at the U.N. Human Rights Council and to update the U.K.'s travel advice to align it with the United States, which warns that U.S. citizenship does not provide protection from detention or arrest in Egypt and that those detained may be subject to "prolonged interrogations and extended detention."

The MPs voiced concern about the lack of progress despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak raising the case directly with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during the COP27 climate summit in November last year.

At the time of the meeting, Abdel Fattah had been on hunger strike for seven months. On the day the conference opened, November 6, he had begun refusing water, too.

At the time of the COP27 climate, Abdel Fattah had been on hunger strike for seven months. On the day the conference opened, November 6, he had begun refusing water, too.

He was a key figure in the 2011 revolt that topped Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak, and was given British citizenship in 2022 through his British-born mother.

Abdel Fattah's sister, Mona Seif, told AFP the family wanted to see the British government make his case a "top priority."

"We are asking them to shift gear. They have been using this approach of soft diplomacy and raising Alaa's case for over a year-and-a-half now and they haven't received anything in return," she said.

Mona Seif added that she believed a joint statement on Egypt at the U.N. Human Rights Council would almost certainly be "effective" in persuading the Egyptian government to move on the case.

"We know that a lot of countries would be willing to join in on a statement... but it needs to be led by the U.K. government because they have a higher stake, they have one of their citizens in arbitrary detention," she said.

His mother Laila Soueif, a mathematician, said she could not understand why the U.K. government had been unable to secure this and described the situation as "unacceptable."

French President Emmanuel Macron also took up the 41-year-old's case with with President al-Sisi, and U.S. President Joe Biden raised human rights issues.

Rights groups say there are more than 60,000 "prisoners of conscience" who have been jailed in Egypt under the rule of President al-Sisi.