Egyptian researcher Patrick Zaki, held for 19 months since being arrested on a trip home from Italy, faced trial today on charges of spreading false news over an article he wrote about the plight of Egypt's Christians, Reuters reports. Zaki appeared in court, however his trial was postponed – once again – this time to 7 December.
The 30-year-old graduate student at the University of Bologna, was jailed in February 2020 while on a visit to Egypt to see his family. He appeared at the start of today's hearing in a courtroom cage, where his handcuffs were removed.
The case has resonated in Italy, which was shocked by the 2016 killing in Egypt of an Italian student, Giulio Regeni.
Zaki was ordered earlier this month to stand a fast-track trial at a state security court in his hometown of Mansoura, about 113 kilometres north of Cairo. He appeared at a brief hearing on 14 September.
Under the charge of spreading false news inside and outside Egypt, he would likely face a maximum sentence of five years, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a leading independent rights group where Zaki also worked as a researcher.
His indictment is based on an article from 2019 for the website Daraj, in which he chronicled a week tracking the impact of events in Egypt on its Coptic Christian minority, EIPR said.
EIPR says Zaki was beaten, subjected to electric shocks, and threatened following his arrest. Egyptian authorities have not commented on the claims, but they routinely deny allegations of ill-treatment by the security forces and in places of detention.
Since 2013, when then-army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in a deadly military coup, there has been a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent in Egypt. Rights groups say tens of thousands of people have been jailed.
Al-Sisi, president since 2014, says security and stability are paramount and denies there are political prisoners in Egypt.
Earlier this month, the government released a long-term human rights strategy which it said provided a roadmap for supporting a wide range of rights.
Updated on 29 September 2020 at 08:19 GMT with details of the postponement of the trial.