Political prisoners Patrick Zaki and Mohamed el-Baqer are free

Patrick George Zaki had been sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday while Mohamed el-Baqer, the lawyer of Alaa Abdel Fattah, was serving a four-year term. Rights organizations have urged Egypt to free all political prisoners

July 20, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Political prisoner Zaki pardoned Egypt
Patrick Zaki (L) and Mohamed el-Baqer. (Photo: Ahram Online)

Human rights activist and researcher Patrick George Zaki was pardoned by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Wednesday, July 19, a day after being sentenced to a three-year prison term. Zaki was pardoned along with another well-known human rights activist and lawyer, Mohamed el-Baqer, and a number of other prisoners. They were subsequently released on Thursday, according to media reports.

The pardon for Zaki came amid widespread condemnation and concern about the declining situation of human rights and civil liberties in Egypt. The government under President el-Sisi has been cracking down heavily on any dissent, criticism, or calls for democracy and basic freedoms. Zaki’s sentencing had invited several statements of concern, including from Egypt’s most important Western ally, the US, which called on the government to “immediately release Zaki and all others unjustly detained.”

Zaki’s sentencing and the issue of other political prisoners led to several well-known Egyptian civil society and intellectual figures withdrawing from the government’s National Dialogue process which was launched last year. The government had promised to release several prisoners as a confidence-building measure for the National Dialogue.

News of the pardons was welcomed by several Egyptian and International human rights groups. Executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hossam Bahgat, said in a tweet, “we welcome the news of their pardon and call for the immediate release of thousands still detained in Egypt on political grounds,” adding that Zaki and Baqer should not have spent a day in jail. 

An official from Amnesty International also welcomed the pardons saying that “the grave case of Zaki” has been resolved, however, cautioning that such pardons do little to improve the overall human rights situation in Egypt. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also welcomed the decision and thanked the Egyptian president for “this very important act.” Zaki is a dual citizen of Egypt and Italy.

Zaki was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday by the Emergency State Security Misdemeanors Court in Mansoura after he was convicted on charges of “disseminating false news about the country’s internal conditions to disturb security and social peace.” The court convicted him on the basis of an article he wrote in 2019 on the condition of the Coptic Christian minority of Egypt and the problems faced by them. He was subsequently arrested and detained in February 2020 when he arrived to meet his family in Egypt from Italy where he was studying at the University of Bologna. He was then kept in pre-trial detention for almost two years before being released on bail in December 2021.

Mohamed el-Baqer has been arrested multiple times by Egyptian authorities, Following his last arrest in 2021, he was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of disseminating false news, misuse of social media, and joining a “terrorist” group. He was a lawyer for Alaa Abdel Fattah, a human rights activist and blogger who is still languishing in prison on similar charges and is one of Egypt’s most well-known political prisoners. Human rights groups, activists, as well as the international community have repeatedly urged the Egyptian government to release all political prisoners and take urgent substantial steps to improve the status of human rights and civil liberties in the country as thousands of people continue to be held in detention, making Egypt one of the world’s most prolific jailers.