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15 Nobel Prize laureates call on Egypt to release political prisoners

Nobel laureates have called upon the government in Egypt to release prisoners of conscience in advance of the COP27 climate change summit in Sharm El Sheikh.

 

Nobel laureates have called upon the government in Egypt to release prisoners of conscience in advance of the COP27 climate change summit in Sharm El Sheikh. The laureates mentioned specifically a British-Egyptian prisoner on hunger strike, Alaa Abdel Fattah, saying that he may die in his cell.

According to a report by Sian Cain in the Guardian, Abdel Fattah has been on hunger strike for six months and will stop drinking water on 6 November, the first day of the summit. "The majority of living Nobel Prize for literature laureates have called on world leaders attending the COP27 climate conference in Egypt this week to help free thousands of political prisoners in the country," wrote Cain, "including the writer Alaa Abdel Fattah who is six months into a hunger strike and at risk of death."

A letter organised by UK publishers Fitzcarraldo Editions and Seven Stories Press has been signed by thirteen Nobel literature laureates: Svetlana Alexievich, JM Coetzee, Annie Ernaux, Louise Gluck, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Kazuo Ishiguro, Elfriede Jelinek, Mario Vargas Llosa, Patrick Modiano, Herta Muller, Orhan Pamuk, Wole Soyinka and Olga Tokarczuk. It was also signed by Nobel chemistry laureate George P Smith, and mathematician and Nobel physics laureate Roger Penrose.

The letter calls upon world leaders to "speak the names of the imprisoned, to call for their freedom, and to invite Egypt to turn a page and become a true partner in a different future: a future that respects human life and dignity." It was sent inter alia to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres; the President of the European Council, Charles Michel; US President Joe Biden; the UK's King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak; as well as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

"Alaa has spent the last 10 years – a quarter of his life – in prison, for words he has written," said the signatories. "As Nobel laureates, we believe in the world-changing power of words – and the need to defend them if we are to build a more sustainable, genuinely fairer future. We urge you to use the opportunity that is now in your hands to help those most vulnerable, not just to the rising seas, but those imprisoned and forgotten – specifically in the very country that has the privilege of hosting you." They urged those at the summit not to use "the excuse of pragmatism to avoid the hard questions."

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi has cracked down on opposition groups and individuals ever since his coup in 2013. Human Rights Watch estimates that there are more than 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt. Alaa Abdel Fattah was sentenced to five years in prison in 2014 for offences related to unauthorised protests. In 2019, he was arrested again for "spreading false news", and last December he was sentenced to five more years in prison.

Amnesty International called that last trial "grossly unfair", and pointed out that "prison and security officials have subjected him to a catalogue of human rights violations including torture and other ill-treatment, in reprisal for his prominent role in the 2011 revolution."
Abdel Fattah's sisters Mona and Sanaa Seif have been staging a protest outside the UK's Foreign Office in London. Sanaa told the Guardian last month, "By sitting on their doorstep they won't be able to shrug me off any longer… When the British government goes to Egypt… for COP, they must return with my brother."

READ: As COP27 approaches, Egypt is concealing rights abuses and environmental issues in Sinai

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