Liz Truss must pressure Egypt to release detained activists with British ties, their families have told the Foreign Secretary ahead of her meeting with her Egyptian counterpart in London on Tuesday.
Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, arrived in London on Sunday in a bid to secure stronger ties between the UK and the authoritarian North African state, a visit that was met by protests outside the Foreign Office and Egyptian embassy.
Jess Kelly, a British filmmaker married to an Egyptian human rights defender subject to a travel ban, said Cairo was using no-fly measures as a “systemic tool” of repression.
“I urge Liz Truss to raise the case of my husband, Karim Ennarah, who has been trapped in Egypt for nearly two years now, when we had planned on starting our married life in London,” she said.
“The use of travel bans to intimidate and punish human rights defenders in Egypt has to stop; it divides families and is a hidden abuse of human rights,” she added.
Human Rights Watch will release a report on Tuesday – when Ms Truss and Mr Shoukry are scheduled to meet – detailing how Egypt uses travel bans against dissidents.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians have been detained in an ongoing crackdown on dissent since president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi seized power amid popular protests against the country’s first democratically elected president in 2013.
Assets seized and banned from travel
Ms Kelly’s husband was arrested along with several of his colleagues at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in November 2020, charging them with “spreading false news” and “joining a terror group” after they met with ambassadors including from the UK to discuss human rights in Egypt.
While international pressure was successful in securing their release, Mr Ennarah has had his assets frozen and been subject to a travel ban, as have four of his colleagues.
With Egypt scheduled to host COP27 climate conference later this year, Ms Kelly and others hope Cairo will be amenable to addressing its rights record, particularly as president Sisi has declared 2022 the Year of Civil Society in Egypt.
Calls to release Alaa Abd el-Fattah
Ahead of his arrival, Mr Shoukry was also sent a letter from 34 MPs and Lords calling on Egypt to release detained human rights activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who has British citizenship.
Mr Abd el-Fattah, 40, has spent over eight years in the last decade in detention for his activism and has been on hunger strike for three months.
His family say his health is declining and they are extremely concerned for his well-being.
“Every day counts,” said his mother Leila Soueif, saying that she had been told she will not be able to visit him until July 9 after not having heard from him since receiving a letter dated June 23.
He was sentenced to five years imprisonment in December for sharing a social media post on abusive conditions in Egyptian prisons after being held in pre-trial detention since 2019.
Ms Truss told parliament in June that she was “working very hard to secure his release” and would raise the issue with Mr Shoukry when they meet.
David Lammy, who is the constituency MP for the sister of Mr Abd el-Fattah, also called on Ms Truss to press for his release.
“British citizen Alaa Abd el-Fattah is at death’s door,” he said. “Months after being sentenced to five years in prison in Egypt simply for sharing a Facebook post, he remains on a punishing hunger strike. It is Liz Truss’s moral and political duty to press the Egyptian foreign minister to secure Alaa’s immediate release.”