As the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) begins in Egypt, today, the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), in concert with a diverse coalition of Canadian and international civil society organizations, issued a public letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, MP Ali Ehsassi, and MP Sumeer Zuberi, urging both the Canadian Federal Government and Parliament to speak up for the immediate release of unjustly imprisoned British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah and to use all tools at their disposal to pressure the Egyptian authorities to grant him his long-awaited freedom. For months, the Canadian government’s silence on human rights issues has been deafening.
At COP 27, Canada Must Speak Out for the Release of Alaa Abdel-Fattah
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
MP Ali Ehsassi
Chair, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
House of Commons
MP Sumeer Zuberi
Chair, Subcommittee on International Human Rights
House of Commons
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, Chair Ehsassi, and Chair Zuberi,
We, the undersigned members of civil society, write to express our solidarity and support for the wrongfully detained British-Egyptian citizen Alaa Abd el-Fattah and urge all elements of the Canadian government participating in the upcoming COP27 conference in Egypt to raise Alaa’s case before Egyptian authorities and to utilize all possible leverage to secure his timely release from unjust and arbitrary detention.
Alaa Abd el-Fattah is one of Egypt’s most prominent political dissidents and activists, renowned for being an intellectual leader of the 2011 revolution and for his steadfast commitment to freedom, dignity, and justice for all Egyptians. Alaa was granted British citizenship through his mother in December 2021, and is now in desperate need of immediate intervention. Alaa’s family fears that his life is in acute danger: he has now been on hunger strike for more than 200 days, consuming roughly 100 calories a day. When COP begins on November 6th, he will begin a full hunger strike and stop drinking water entirely. In a letter to his mother announcing this decision and explaining his rationale, Alaa wrote: “I’ve taken a decision to escalate at a time I see as fitting for my struggle for my freedom and the freedom of prisoners of a conflict they’ve no part in, or they’re trying to exit from; for the victims of a regime that’s unable to handle its crises except with oppression, unable to reproduce itself except through incarceration.”
As a result of his outspoken defense of human rights and democracy, Alaa has been wrongfully detained under every successive Egyptian president in his lifetime. Since the 2011 revolution, Abd el-Fattah has spent more time in prison than he has free. In September 2019, just five months after completing his previous sentence, Alaa was arrested on baseless charges of “spreading false news” in relation to a Facebook post critical of prison authorities. Alaa’s pretrial detention was repeatedly renewed for more than two years, often without his physical presence in the courtroom and in violation of Egypt’s legal limitation. While imprisoned in Tora Maximum Security Prison 2, he reported being subject to repeated torture and abuse at the hands of state officials, and at times prison authorities explicitly indicated his punishment was retribution for his human rights advocacy. In December 2021, Alaa was sentenced to five years in prison by an exceptional Egyptian Emergency State Security Court in Case No. 1228/2021. His trial, in which human rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer and blogger Mohammed “Oxygen” Ibrahim stood as co-defendants, was tainted by significant violations of due process and rule of law: their lawyers were prevented from reviewing the case file and were prohibited from mounting a proper defense on behalf of their clients. Furthermore, because charges from a previous case were copied into Case No. 1228/2021, the two years that Alaa spent in pretrial detention do not count as time served toward his current sentence. Since the trial took place before an exceptional court, there is no appeal process and President el-Sisi retains sole authority to issue a pardon or reduce Alaa’s sentence.
The rapidly deteriorating state of Alaa’s health and well-being deserve sharp focus and immediate action from international leaders. Knowing that Canada prides itself as a leading advocate for global human rights, this is an opportunity for the government to live out its values and demonstrate its commitment to rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and participatory governance. Moreover, Egypt is one of Canada’s largest trading partners in Africa and maintains important relations with the Egyptian government. As a founding member and 2022 Chair of the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC), we also realize that Canada is an ardent supporter of internet freedoms, of which Alaa’s detention is an egregious abuse against. There is no doubt that the Canadian government is in a powerful position to speak out for Alaa and those wrongfully detained alongside him. The Egyptian government’s apathetic response to British overtures on behalf of Alaa make it painfully clear that sustained, coordinated, and vocal international pressure is necessary to secure his release or improve conditions.
It is imperative that the Canadian government and all those attending COP27 join the chorus of international leaders who have voiced their support for Alaa and Egypt’s thousands of political prisoners. We believe that continued, coordinated pressure while the global spotlight is on Egypt can help save Alaa’s life. We urge those responsible to intervene, and for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to release all victims of his senseless crackdown on freedom of expression in Egypt.
- The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
- Egyptian Human Rights Forum ( EHRF)
- Egypt Migrations
- International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
- PEN Canada
- Access Now
- Commitee for Justice
- Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies
- Centre for Media, Technology and Democracy, McGill University
- Quiet As Kept Agency
- INSM for Digital Rights
- Pen Iraq
- MENA Rights Group
- Global Voices
- Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
- Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
- Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
- The Freedom Initiative
- Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)