Egyptian researcher Patrick Zaki, who has been detained for 19 months following his arrest as he attempted to return to Italy, appeared in court Tuesday on charges of “spreading false news”.
Zaki, 30 year-old and graduate student at the University of Bologna, was arrested in February 2020 whilst visiting his family in Egypt.
Earlier this month, an order was issued for Zaki to face trial before a State Security Court in the city of Mansoura, 70 km north of Cairo. On 14 September, Zaki publicly stated that he was not guilty of any of the charges against him.
Zaki faces up to eight years in prison, on charges of “spreading false news inside and outside of the country”.
The accusation is based on an article Zaki published in 2019 with the Daraj website, in which he recorded the impacts of various events on Egyptian Copts.
According to a number of sources, Zaki has been subjected to beatings, electric shocks, and various threats since his arrest.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, has recently confirmed that the Egyptian authorities’ charges against various human-rights defenders in the country are “spurious”.
In a statement, Lawlor deplored the continued and widespread arrests and prolonged pretrial detentions of those same human-rights activists.
According to the statement, in Egypt “human rights defenders are often arrested without a warrant and detained incommunicado at an unknown location and subjected to enforced disappearance, before being presented before the Supreme State Security Prosecution. Their pre-trial detention pending investigation is then ordered for alleged acts criminalized under the vague provisions of the Penal Code, Anti-Terror Law and Anti-Cybercrime Law.”
And, continued Lawlor’s statement, “attaching human rights defenders to multiple spurious cases, in some instances in parallel, represents the flagrant disregard by Egypt of the international human rights obligations it has signed up to. It is a practice designed to prevent defenders from promoting human rights in the country and it spreads a chilling effect among civil society.”
Since Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi assumed power, Egyptian authorities have waged an unprecedented crackdown against dissidents and critics, arresting thousands of them for political reasons. Many have been convicted and sentenced following unfair trials, or held without trial for years on “terrorism”-related charges, typically in appalling conditions.