Hollywood stars urge Truss to help free British-Egyptian writer on hunger strike

Sanna Seif with Richard Ratcliffe before the press conference (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

Hollywood stars have pleaded with Liz Truss to intervene to help free a British-Egyptian pro-democracy activist on the 74th day of his hunger strike.

Dame Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, Mark Ruffalo and Carey Mulligan are among the signatories of a letter addressed to the Foreign Secretary and her US counterpart in aid of Alaa Abd El-Fattah.

Abd el-Fattah, 40, has spent most of the last decade behind bars in Egypt and was sentenced last December to five years in prison after being accused of spreading false news.

His sister, Sanaa Seif, and his friend Khalid Abdalla, the actor who plays Dodi Fayed in The Crown, were among those who made the case at a press conference at the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday.

Alaa is slowly dying and hopefully we can save him, I know we have a window of opportunity to save him.

Sana Seif

They were joined by families and parliamentarians implicated in other cases of British citizens detained abroad who want the Foreign Office to act more urgently to free their loved ones.

Ms. Seif said: “Today marks the 74th day of Alaa’s hunger strike, my brother is slowly dying in his cell but he wants to live.

“She misses her life, she misses her job, she misses her son and us.

“Alaa started his strike only by drinking water and taking rehydration solutions, then on the 55th day the Egyptian authorities made a small compromise: they transferred him to a prison where there is a bed to sleep in, he slept in a bed for the first time in three years and he was allowed books for the first time in three years.

“He also made a little compromise on his part and switched to what he calls a Gandhi-inspired hunger strike: he started eating 100 calories a day, basically to buy us more time campaigning for his release.”

Ms Seif noted that the average daily calorie intake for a person is 2,000, adding: “We are deeply puzzled by the way we have been treated by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Why hasn’t she met with us? Why hasn’t she officially spoken about Alaa yet? I can tell you that she hurts.

“Alaa is slowly dying and hopefully we can save him, I know we have a window of opportunity to save him.”

Dame Judi Dench is among those who endorsed the letter (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA File)

Dame Judi Dench is among those who endorsed the letter (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA File)

Ms Seif said she believed Foreign Secretary Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon was “genuinely understanding” when they met, but insisted the UK needed to make a high-level intervention.

He explained that there is a route by which his brother could be deported if he renounces his Egyptian citizenship, noting that he is prepared to do so.

Ms Seif added: “The way it could be resolved is a high-level call from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but it also followed up with firm negotiations from the Foreign Secretary.”

Abdalla said more than 1,000 people, including “pillars of the cultural landscape,” signed the letter to Truss.

He said: “It is an extraordinary thing to be here as a signer of that letter, but also as a friend of Alaa directing that force towards her. If all these people can sign this letter, how come Liz Truss is not responding? ? It hurts, as Sanaa says, on a deep level.”

In the letter addressed to Ms. Truss and Antony Blinken, it says: “We ask you to use all diplomatic power to harness the importance of your strategic relations with Egypt to secure your immediate release.

“As public intellectuals, artists and human rights defenders, we are appalled to see the inhumane treatment of Alaa, whom we consider a peer, as he continues to be arbitrarily held in an Egyptian prison.”

Sanaa Seif with Richard Ratcliffe (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

Sanaa Seif with Richard Ratcliffe (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy asked Ms Truss to meet the family of Mr Abd el-Fattah, who live in her constituency of Tottenham.

Expressing concern about the Foreign Office’s broader response to families, he said: “The approach seems messy, arbitrary, sometimes under-resourced, sometimes uncoordinated and certainly lacking in transparency and a sense of systematic approach to these families being are in this condition. .”

Richard Ratcliffe, whose wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, was detained for six years in Iran, said the “sympathy but not traction” experienced by many relatives was a familiar story for him.

He said: “A part of me wanted to be here to say ‘listen, there’s another side, you keep fighting but you’ll get them home, you’ll get out of this.’ It’s not quick and in our case it took much longer than we expected, but it’s through solidarity, you feel so alone at the beginning of this, but together we got through it.”

Leila Fitton, 31, of Bath, said in a video message that her father, Jim Fitton, 66, a retired geologist, had been the subject of a “highly political, unfair and ridiculously harsh verdict” after having been jailed for 15 years in Iraq on charges of attempted smuggling of artifacts.

Other cases that were raised included: Jagtar Singh Johal, from Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, a Scottish Sikh who was arrested in India on November 4, 2017; and Peter Jouvenal, 66, a British journalist detained by the Taliban in Kabul six months ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.