Alaa Abdel-Fattah, activist on hunger strike in Egypt prison, given "medical intervention," family told

Fear for hunger-striking Egyptian activist

Jailed Egyptian rights activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who began refusing even water after more than 200 days on a hunger strike at the start of the COP27 climate conference, has received "medical intervention," his family has been told. Prison authorities told his mother on Thursday that measures had been taken "with the knowledge of a judicial authority."

"We are demanding information on the substance of the 'medical intervention' and demanding that with the utmost urgency he is moved to hospital where lawyers and family can reach him," the activist's family said in a statement provided to CBS News.

Abdel-Fattah's lawyer, Khaled Ali, said Thursday that he had finally received permission to visit the activist in prison, and that he was on his way there.

Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah is shown in this undated photo. Free Alaa campaign

"This news is seriously worrying... After being on hunger strike for seven months Alaa's body is in an incredibly precarious state and the wrong intervention could have terrible consequences," Abdel-Fattah's cousin, Omar Robert Hamliton, told CBS News. "This is against his will, illegal and inhumane. We don't even know if he's in a hospital or still inside the prison. The cruelty is unfathomable." 

Abdel-Fattah, a dual Egyptian-British citizen who was an important figure in the pro-democracy "Arab Spring" movement more than a decade ago, has been imprisoned in Egypt for virtually the entire tenure of Egypt's current authoritarian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, since 2014. Alaa's family and human rights groups call the charges against him spurious.

Protesters gather on November 7, 2022 near the British embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut to demand the release of jailed British-Egyptian political dissident Alaa Abdel Fattah. ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty

The head of the United Nations human rights office called on Tuesday for his immediate release, warning that he was "in great danger." A spokesman for the U.N. rights office said the global body had last raised the issue of the activist's health with the Egyptian authorities on Friday, and that they were calling for him "to be urgently, immediately released." 

Meanwhile, Abdel-Fattah's sister Sanaa Seif, who travelled to Egypt from London early this week to be at the COP27 summit in the hope of increasing pressure on international leaders to campaign for her brother's release, was told that a complaint had been filed against her asking Egypt's public prosecutor to charge her with "conspiring with foreign agencies hostile to the Egyptian state" and "deliberately spreading false news," her family said in a statement. 

Egyptian member of parliament Amr Darwish (right) is escorted outside by United Nations security during a press conference hosted by the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice and attended by Sanaa Seif (top left), sister of imprisoned British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, on the sidelines of the COP27 climate conference in Egypt's Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh on November 8, 2022. JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty

"Anybody can submit a complaint to the General Prosecutor's office, and it's up to him to decide whether or not to proceed with it," Abdel-Fattah's other sister Mona said in a statement. "But with our experience in our family, it is usually the case that complaints that we submit about crimes committed against us are ignored, while complaints that are filed against us by random people we don't know, is usually the Egyptian state's way of starting a new case against one of us. So there's a very strong possibility that this is what they're preparing next for Sanaa."

President Biden was to be in Egypt to attend the COP27 climate conference on Friday and he was expected to hold a bilateral meeting with el-Sisi. A senior White House official said Tuesday that the president would discuss human rights with the Egyptian leader.

Mr. Biden will "be engaging with Egyptian leaders to discuss developments in the Middle East and the U.S. commitment to stability through broader-integration diplomacy to end conflicts in the region and deescalate tensions. Human rights will feature prominently in those discussions," the senior official said. 

"We have and will continue to urge the Egyptian government to release political prisoners and undertake human rights-related legal reforms," the official added.

The senior official said the Biden administration remained concerned about Abdel-Fattah's case in particular, "and the reported condition of his health, and we have raised repeated concerns about his case and his conditions in detention with the government of Egypt."

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