Egyptian court grants provisional release to human rights researcher Patrick George Zaki

Zaki was arrested in February 2020 after returning to Egypt from Italy where he was studying at the University of Bologna. He has since spent 22 months in pre-trial detention on various charges

December 08, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
patrick zaki Egypt
Patrick George Zaki. (Photo: Middle East Monitor)

Egyptian human rights researcher Patrick George Zaki will be released from prison after over 22 months as an Egyptian Emergency State Security Misdemeanor Court cleared the way for his release on Tuesday, December 7. However, the exact date of his release remains unclear. The court also adjourned his trial to February 1, 2022. His trial had already been postponed once by the state security court in the city of Mansoura, north of capital Cairo, from its original date of September 14 to December 7. Zaki is well-known for demanding justice in the gruesome murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in 2016 and raising the issue of oppression faced by the Coptic Christian community in Egypt.

The 28-year-old human rights researcher was working with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) when he was arrested and detained on February 7, 2020 after returning to Egypt from Italy where he was studying at the University of Bologna. He has since been held in pre-trial detention and charged with crimes such as “calling for protests without permission”, “spreading false news” and “inciting violence and terrorism”. Following his arrest and illegal detention, a massive campaign was launched in Egypt and Italy by human rights groups and activists in solidarity with Zaki demanding his release.

According to EIPR, while in prison, Zaki was subjected to various forms of maltreatment and torture, including electric shocks, physical beatings and verbal threats. EIPR’s Lobna Darwish noted that the judge postponed the trial date to allow more time for the prosecution and defense to prepare their arguments. Several other EIPR staff have been detained by Egyptian authorities in the past, including EIPR head Gasser Abdel Razek, criminal justice director Karim Ennarah, and administrator Mohamed Basheer following a meeting on human rights with Western diplomats. A sustained international campaign eventually led to the Egyptian authorities releasing them.

Reacting to the news of Zaki’s release, his mother Hala Sobhy told news outlets, “I’m jumping for joy. We’re now on our way to the police station in Mansoura.”

Amnesty International Italy spokesperson Riccardo Noury also expressed relief, writing on Twitter that “despite the fact he is still under trial, this is a huge step forward.” Several prominent Italian politicians, including prime minister Mario Draghi and foreign minister Luigi Di Maio, expressed “satisfaction” and added that the Italian government is closely following the case.

The status of human rights in Egypt has seen a drastic decline in the years following the 2013 military coup by then army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that overthrew the government of president Mohammed Morsi. What has followed since is a brutal and violent crackdown against political opposition, pro-democracy and human rights activists, and any criticism or dissent against the el-Sisi regime. According to estimates by rights groups, more than 60,000 Egyptians have been thrown into prison. The el-Sisi government has targeted and persecuted those who speak up for human rights and civil liberties in the country in a systematic campaign of repression aimed at forcing silence about the human rights abuses and other crimes committed by the regime.