Egypt: Ahead of climate summit, Greta Thunberg and others back Egypt political prisoners

Amid Egyptian government’s tight restrictions on assembly and free speech, UN annual conference on climate change is set to be hosted in Sharm El Sheikh next month

Well-known Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg has joined over 200 organisations and individuals in calling on Egyptian authorities to release journalists and political prisoners in the country ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (Cop27) next month.

There are escalating calls from the world’s largest coalition of environmental and climate change organizations on the Egyptian authorities to urgently address the human rights crisis in Egypt.

Days before the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Summit, the world’s largest coalition of environmental and climate change organizations and individuals, including the most famous environmental activist Greta Thunberg, called on Egyptian government to lift restrictions on civic space and public freedoms, end the crackdown on peaceful dissent, and release all political prisoners.

Cop27 will be hosted in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh from 7 to 18 November amid tight restrictions on peaceful assembly and free speech.

On Thursday, Thunberg tweeted a petition which bore the signature of hundreds of human rights groups and individuals who expressed dismay over Egypt hosting a UN summit, while thousands of Egyptian political prisoners remain locked in dire conditions.

“We stand in solidarity with prisoners of conscience in Egypt,” she tweeted.

The petitioners said that they: “Emphasise that effective climate action is not possible without open civic space.

“As host of Cop27, Egypt risks compromising the success of the summit if it does not urgently address ongoing arbitrary restrictions on civil society.

“Prisoners are held in detention conditions that violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, and since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power hundreds have died in custody amid reports of denial of healthcare and other abuse,” they added.

Human rights activists stressed that tackling climate change goes hand-in-hand with addressing social and economic inequality, corruption and impunity, and ecological destruction.

The Rassd News Network tweeted, saying: Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg announces her support for a human rights petition calling on Sisi to release prisoners of conscience before the 2022 climate conference. Will climate activists embarrass Sisi at the conference?

“We stress the importance of the right to freedom of expression and independent reporting to foster efforts to address the climate crisis,” they added, calling on Egyptian authorities to release jailed human rights defenders and journalists and end the blocking of websites of independent media and civil society groups.

“We note that, under the current government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, thousands continue to be arbitrarily detained without a legal basis, following grossly unfair trials, or solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.”

Thunberg’s call comes on the same day as the European Parliament demanded that respect for “criteria relating to human rights” be taken into account in the choice of host countries for future Cops.

Hossam Bahgat, Egyptian human rights activist and founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, tweeted, saying: Days before the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Summit, the world’s largest coalition of environmental and climate change organizations calls on the Egyptian government to release political prisoners, stop pursuing peaceful dissidents, and lift restrictions on public freedoms

“Egypt … is using the Cop27 to restore its image and hide its catastrophic record on human rights”, said French environmentalist MEP Mounir Satouri, one of the elected officials behind an amendment to a bill concerning Cop27, which MEPs approved on Thursday.

Satouri said that the issue of respecting human rights should be raised when the United Arab Emirates hosts Cop28 next year.

On Tuesday, Egyptian-British activist Alaa Abdel Fattah completed 200 days on hunger strike in an Egyptian jail, with no end in sight to his ordeal.

Abdel Fattah, an activist who called for peaceful assembly and free speech, was an icon of the 2011 Egyptian revolution and has spent eight out of the past 10 years in jail on various charges.

Human rights activists said that the Egyptian authorities must take meaningful steps to address the human rights crisis, including by lifting restrictions on access to civic space and ending their crackdown on peaceful dissent.

They noted that Egypt remains one of the world’s top executioners, executing 107 in 2020 and 83 people in 2021 while sentencing at least 356 Egyptians to death in 2021.