Zaki Case: Coptic activist arrested for his opinion whilst Egypt cracks down on dissent
Patrick George Zaki, a researcher at the University of Bologna, was arrested at Cairo airport. Seized by security agents, he has been reportedly tortured, and is now in custody, waiting for a hearing. He “is a friend of mine,” said Mina Thabet; “innocent and certainly not a terrorist.” Egypt treats every critical voice as a threat.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – Patrick George Zaki, a 27-year-old Egyptian activist, and a researcher at the University of Bologna (Italy), was arrested recently on charges of "terrorism" at a Cairo airport.
Mina Thabet, a Christian and a former leader of the Maspero Youth Union, currently programme manager of the Civil Liberties and Minorities programmes of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), spoke to AsiaNews from his London office about the arrest.
“What I can tell you is that Patrick is a friend of mine. He was seized by Egyptian authorities even though he is innocent and certainly not a terrorist.”
“He is a peaceful person, a human rights defender, who was studying in Italy and went home to see his family.”
Zaki is a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an Egyptian NGO. He has been on leave from the NGO to pursue a master’s degree in gender studies at the University of Bologna.
Patrick was reportedly detained at the airport passport control desk on last Friday when a customs agent saw that an arrest warrant had been issued against him and took him to a separate room at the airport.
At the time of his arrest, he was on the phone with family members, who were able to immediately alert the NGO and acquaintances.
The activist was then taken to a location an hour's drive from the airport and locked in an Egyptian secret service building (Amn e-Dawla), the same agency involved in the abduction and death under torture of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni.
Like Regeni, who was found dead on 3 February 2016, Zaki was reportedly beaten and tortured with electric wires (not with a stick, to avoid leaving traces).
According to the EIPR, Zaki was returning to Egypt for a short holiday, when the police took him into custody on the basis of a warrant issued in 2019 of which the activist was unaware.
According to the charge sheet, he is accused of several offences: disseminating false information, undermining the social order, calling for unauthorised protests to overthrow the government, misuse of social media to undermine national security, and propaganda for terrorist groups.
Local sources report that Patrick George Zaki came under suspicion in late September, when the country was placed under high alert in reaction to demonstrations against President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
At that time, police tightened online media controls, starting with social media through which protest leader, exiled Egyptian businessman Mohamed Ali, was promoting grassroots activism.
“I don't remember whether or not he wrote critical texts, but at that time all of us activists or people interested in what was happening in our country expressed our opinion,” said Mina Thabet.
“Of course, Patrick never supported President al-Sisi, but he is certainly not a terrorist and he is innocent of the charges brought against him. He was taken and attacked for nothing.”
Unfortunately, in his view, the Egyptian government “considers opinions a matter of national security,” and censors in an attempt to “to keep al-Sisi in power. Any critical voice is perceived as a threat.”
For now, the young man is being held for 15 days at the Mansoura police station in pre-trial detention. He is in a cell with other people. His parents managed to get food and clothes to him.
Judicial sources report that the next hearing is scheduled for 22 February.