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UK MP proposes British citizens abroad receive statutory consular assistance

Alaa Abdelfattah [Twitter]
Alaa Abdelfattah [Twitter]

The UK's Shadow Foreign Secretary has proposed that British citizens abroad receive a statutory right to Foreign Office consular assistance, reports The Guardian.

The UK government is currently not legally obliged to provide consular assistance to a UK citizen, leaving consular protection entirely at the discretion of the UK government.

According to the NGO Redress, which has long argued that consular protection for all British citizens should be enshrined in UK law, individuals detained in certain countries abroad are more vulnerable to human rights violations and torture.

One of the prisoners who could benefit from this legislation is the dual citizen Alaa Abdelfattah, who despite having a British passport as well as Egyptian nationality, has not been visited by British diplomats.

Alaa was arrested in September 2019 and in December 2021 was sentenced to five years in prison by an Egyptian Emergency State Security Court for "spreading false news."

Last year Alaa obtained British citizenship through his mother, who was born in Britain, and despite this has still not received a consular visit from UK officials.

READ: Detainees in new Egypt's Badr prison complex complain about conditions

In prison, Alaa has been tortured, deprived of writing materials and denied visits from loved ones and has been on hunger strike for several weeks to protest his unjust detention.

Amnesty International has called on Egypt to release him and for UK authorities to do everything they can to secure his release.

Also suffering from this lack of legal protection is Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-British businessman and conservationist, and British national Jagtar Singh Johal who is being held on pretrial detention in India.

According to Redress, Jagtar has been tortured and faces the death penalty but has not had access to private consular assistance whilst in jail.

Lammy's proposal came at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool this week after complaints by families of loved ones locked up abroad that the Foreign Office is indifferent or puts diplomatic interests ahead of citizens.

"Due to the UK government's wide discretion, its overall practice in this area is unpredictable, lacks transparency, and is often inconsistent with the UK government's own guidance," Redress said in a statement after Lammy's speech.

"British nationals detained abroad, and their families have long complained of the lack of communication with consular officials as well as belated and infrequent consular visits which often do not happen in private."

"Where consular staff have been prevented from visiting British nationals in prison, for instance because of the individual's dual nationality, families have complained that consular staff have not sufficiently insisted on gaining access. Such complaints have been made even in cases where torture has been alleged."

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