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Egypt rights groups denounce referral of researcher to emergency court

A man shows a photograph of Patrick Zaki during a demonstration in solidarity with Patrick Zaki and human rights activists detained around the world on 16 June 2021 in Naples, Italy. [Ivan Romano/Getty Images]
A man shows a photograph of Patrick Zaki during a demonstration in solidarity with Patrick Zaki and human rights activists detained around the world on 16 June 2021 in Naples, Italy. [Ivan Romano/Getty Images]

Human rights advocates have raised concerns about the trial of Patrick Zaki in an emergency court, which started at the beginning of this week but has been adjourned until 28 September.

Zaki has been charged with "spreading false news inside and outside the country," based on a 2019 article he wrote for Daraj, "Displacement, Killing and Restriction: A Week's Diaries of Egypt's Copts."

The article was an effort by Zaki to document the life of Egyptian Christians, from displacement in Upper Egypt, to kidnappings and the closure of churches.

Persecution of Copts has risen under the current government with Amnesty International criticising the regime for failing to protect Christians in North Sinai against kidnappings and assassinations.

Hundreds of Christians have left North Sinai for Ismailia because of the violence there.

On Monday ten rights organisations signed a joint statement condemning the trial as an "assault on the rights of all Egyptians to express themselves."

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Zaki, who himself is a Copt, was arrested in February last year as he arrived in the airport from Bologna in Italy where he was studying for his master's in gender and women's studies, on leave from his job as a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

Zaki has been beaten, electrocuted, verbally abused and threatened with rape.

He was held in pretrial detention for 19 months before the charges were brought against him on Monday at the Mansoura II State Security Misdemeanours Court and the verdict delayed until the end of September.

Representatives from the Italian, German and Canadian embassies were present at the trial and so was a lawyer from the European Union.

Zaki's charges were brought against him as Egypt launched its National Strategy for Human Rights, in which the president called on civil society to "spread awareness of the human rights culture" and spoke about freedom of religion, belief, speech, expression and equality.

"The silencing of human rights researchers through torture and intimidation can only hinder the spread of a culture of human rights in the country," said Minority Rights.

The National Strategy has been described as an attempt to whitewash the regime's violations. Six human rights organisations said that the rights crisis in the country is not the lack of a strategy but the absence of political will.

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