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Truss pledge to help detained British-Egyptian writer offers family hope

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arriving in Downing Street, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arriving in Downing Street, London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The family of a British-Egyptian writer on hunger strike for 81 days hope his “nightmare” will soon end after the Foreign Secretary pledged to help free him.

Liz Truss told MPs she is seeking a meeting with her Egyptian counterpart and intends to raise the case of pro-democracy activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah.

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

His family have pleaded with Ms Truss to get involved to help free the 40-year-old, who is taking 100 calories a day in a bid to gain more time in the campaign for his release.

Speaking during Foreign Office questions, Ms Truss told the House of Commons: “We’re working very hard to secure his release.

“Lord Ahmad has met with the family and I am seeking a meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister, he’s due to visit the United Kingdom shortly, and I’ll be raising his case.”

Mr Abd El-Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif, told the PA news agency: “It’s an incredible relief to hear the Foreign Secretary say, inside the chamber, that the Government is working very hard to secure Alaa’s release.

“We’ve always believed that, if the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) put its full weight behind Alaa, his nightmare would be over.

“But he is on day 81 of hunger strike now and time is running out. I hope they decide to fully commit before it’s too late.”

The family said they are planning a vigil outside the FCDO from 5pm on Wednesday in aid of their campaign to free Mr Abd El-Fattah.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran had earlier told the House of Commons: “Alaa Abd El-Fattah is a British national currently being imprisoned in Egypt and is on day 81 of his hunger strike.

“He’s an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and has been in prison for his pro-democracy views for eight of the last nine years since (President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi) took power.”

She added to Ms Truss: “Would she consider meeting with them to discuss how we can ensure his release?”

Hollywood stars Dame Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, Mark Ruffalo and Carey Mulligan are among those to campaign for Mr Abd El-Fattah’s release.

His sister Sanaa Seif told a press conference in Parliament last week: “Alaa started his strike only drinking water and taking rehydration solutions, then on day 55 the Egyptian authorities made a small compromise – they moved him to a prison where there is a bed to sleep on, he slept on a bed for the first time in three years and was allowed books for the first time in three years.

“He also made a little compromise from his side and switched to what he calls Gandhi-inspired hunger strike – he started taking 100 calories a day, basically to gain us more time in the campaign for his release.”

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

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