Egyptian-British hunger striker's family receive 'proof of life' letter

FILE PHOTO: A handout image of activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah

CAIRO (Reuters) - The sister of Egyptian-British activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah said on Monday the family had received a letter from prison that served as "proof of life" from the hunger striker, who said he had resumed drinking water.

Abd el-Fattah, who has been on hunger strike against his detention and prison conditions for more than 220 days, had said he was escalating his protest by ceasing to drink water on Nov. 6, the opening day of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt.

Since then his family and his lawyer had made repeated trips to the prison where he is detained northwest of Cairo, but had received no news on his condition.

"Alaa is alive, he says he's drinking water again as of November 12th," Sanaa Seif said on Twitter. "It's definitely his handwriting. Proof of life, at last."

The family shared a copy of the note, which said he was receiving medical attention and his vital signs were good. It also asked them to bring vitamins.

Abd el-Fattah's strike has overshadowed United Nations climate talks in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where several leaders have raised the case with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, including U.S. President Joe Biden.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said after the meeting on Friday that Washington was doing everything it could to secure Abd el-Fattah's freedom "as well as the release of a number of other political prisoners" in Egypt.

Since Abd el-Fattah obtained British citizenship in December, British officials have sought unsuccessfully to secure consular access. British foreign minister James Cleverly said on Monday the government would keep trying.

Abd el-Fattah's lawyer Khaled Ali said he visited the prison but was unable to get approval to see Abd el-Fattah from officials for a second consecutive day despite authorisation from the public prosecutor's office.

"Why have they been refusing his lawyer access to him, even with a permit? Why did they hold this letter back from us for two days?" his sister Sanaa said in a statement.

"Alaa is still on hunger strike, the UK embassy has still failed to achieve consular access (and) he’s still arbitrarily detained with no end in sight."

Since 2013, when then-army chief Sisi ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, there has been a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent that has swept up liberals and leftists, as well as Islamists. Human rights groups say tens of thousands have been jailed.

A media watchdog said on Monday that a journalist had been detained on charges including publishing fake news after he said on Facebook, citing an unnamed source, that Abd el-Fattah had been subject to forcible measures to keep him alive.

The Egyptian Observatory for Journalism and Media said Ahmed Fayez was detained on Thursday in Cairo.

Sisi, who became president in 2014, says security and stability are paramount and denies there are political prisoners in Egypt.

(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir, Moataz Mohamed and Farah Saafan; writing by Aidan Lewis and Dominic Evans, editing by Mark Heinrich, Angus MacSwan, Alexander Smith and David Gregorio)