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Egypt sentences rights researcher Patrick Zaki to 3 years in jail - rights group

July 18, 2023 at 4:43 pm

Egyptian police officer entering the Tora prison in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on 11 February 2020 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images]

An Egyptian court, on Tuesday, sentenced Patrick Zaki, a rights researcher who had been studying in Italy and accused of spreading false news, to three years in jail, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said, Reuters reports.

Zaki was arrested during a visit home to Egypt in February 2020, while he was a graduate student at the University of Bologna. He was charged with disseminating false information over an article he wrote about the plight of Egypt’s Christians.

He served 22 months in pre-trial detention before being released, pending the completion of his trial at an emergency state security court in his hometown of Mansoura. The sentence cannot be appealed in higher courts, but it can be ratified or annulled by the President.

“He has been arrested now and is being transferred to jail,” said EIPR head, Hossam Bahgat, after the sentence was announced.

The sentence comes as a long crackdown on dissent continues under President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president when Army chief a decade ago and became president himself, a year later.

READ: Egypt court postpones human rights researcher’s trial

Zaki had worked as a researcher at EIPR, a leading independent rights group, which says he was subjected to torture following his arrest.

“This is a travesty of justice but, unfortunately, it is all too common,” said Bahgat. “We are calling on the President to immediately cancel this verdict.”

Zaki’s case has drawn wide attention in Italy, which had already been shocked by the 2016 killing in Egypt of Italian student, Giulio Regeni. Observers from Western embassies who tried to attend hearings of Zaki’s trial were not allowed inside the courtroom on Tuesday, according to Bahgat and a diplomat.

Sisi and other officials say security measures were needed to stabilise Egypt, and that the judicial system is fair and independent. Since late 2021, authorities have taken steps they say are aimed at addressing human rights, but critics have dismissed these as cosmetic.

This year they also launched a national political dialogue to debate the country’s future, though the process has been overshadowed by continuing arrests.

Negad El-Borai, a prominent rights lawyer, said Zaki’s sentencing had rendered his presence on the board of trustees of the dialogue “pointless”.

“I accepted membership as a volunteer in my attempt to bridge the gap between the human rights movement and the state and its institutions but I did not succeed,” he said on Twitter.

READ: Patrick Zaki’s release an effort to whitewash Egypt’s regime, says rights advocate