US senator hits out at treatment of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Egypt's rights record

US senator hits out at treatment of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Egypt's rights record
2 min read
21 May, 2022
The comments came after the Egyptian activist has spent seven weeks on hunger strike to protest his prison conditions.
The activist has spent most of the past decade behind bars, and his detention has become a symbol of Egypt’s return to autocratic rule [Getty]

The US Senate's longest serving member has rebuked Egyptian authorities for continuing to detain activist and blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah, calling his treatment “reminiscent of the Middle Ages”. 

Democrat senator for Vermont Patrick Leahy told Congress that while he welcomed the release of dozens of political prisoners last month, “thousands of other opposition figures remain behind bars for acts of free speech and association that are not crimes under international law.”

“It is hard to take seriously Egypt’s new ‘human rights strategy’.... A serious human rights strategy would include repealing laws that are used to criminalise speech and association, real consequences for ignoring maximum limits on pre-trial detention, and protections of the rights of prisoners,” he said. 

“Egypt is an important ally of the United States.  We share a common interest in a peaceful Middle East - but on human rights we have profound differences,” his speech concluded - on the same day that the US approved a sale of hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons to Egypt. 

Leahy’s statement at the US senate came after news that Abdel-Fattah had been transferred to a prison in Wadi al-Natrun early on Thursday.

He had been on hunger strike since 2 April, to protest the conditions in which he was being held.

The dual British-Egyptian national reportedly had said goodbye to his loved ones earlier this month as his health continued to deteriorate.

His family and British parliamentarians have appealed for help from the UK government in securing his full release, but to little avail.

On Wednesday, 27 politicians wrote to foreign secretary Liz Truss, asking her to use “all means possible to secure consular access to Mr. Abd el-Fattah” and “insist on immediate improvements to his prison conditions”. 

The group, formed of nine MPs and 18 members of the House of Lords, is yet to receive a response from the Foreign Office. 

Egypt's government under the president of Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has been accused by local and international rights groups of overseeing the country's worst crackdown on human rights in decades, with some 60,000 of its critics currently behind bars.