Egypt: Researcher and activist Patrick Zaki jailed for three years

Patrick Zaki, an Egyptian researcher, was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday for denouncing discrimination against Christians in Egypt, a decision that many human rights figures criticized for a “national dialogue” created in the country to give everyone a voice. prompted to leave.

Patrick Zaki was arrested after a hearing at the state security emergency court in Mansoura, 130 kilometers north of Cairo, announced Hossam Bahgat, founder of the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), to which the human rights activist belongs .

The researcher was released in December 2021 after 22 months of preventive detention.

Amnesty International condemned “a reprehensible verdict”, saying that “the image of Patrick being dragged out of the courtroom is appalling”.

It is impossible to appeal after the decision of the special court.

Several moderate opposition figures quickly announced they would pull out of national talks launched by the government in early May to discuss all the vexing topics less than a year from the presidential election.

– “Failure” of dialogue –

Lawyer Negad El Borai felt the sentence “useless” his presence in the national dialogue. He wrote, “I apologize for this failure.”

His colleague Mahienour El-Masry called for a “return” to the “farce of national dialogue”.

Egyptologist Patrick Zaki on his arrival at the Mansoura court on June 21, 2022 (AFP/Archive – Mohamed El-Rai)

Two other figures followed: left-wing politician Khalid Dawood, who said, “Prevent his participation because we cannot say that we negotiate when such decisions are given”, and lawyer Ahmed Ragheb, a member of the National Human Rights Commission. Negotiations.

National dialogue coordinator Diya Rashwan issued a statement on behalf of the forum on Tuesday demanding President Sisi’s “immediate release” of Patrick Zaki.

According to him, the presidential pardon would reaffirm the president’s continued commitment to “a positive climate for the success of the national dialogue”.

Mr Zaki faced up to five years in prison in 2019 for publishing an article on an online newspaper that described a week of rights violations for Copts, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East , which accounts for 10 to 15% of the population. are related. 105 million Egyptians.

An expert on gender issues, she was arrested in February 2020 on charges of “terrorism” upon her return from Italy, where she was studying at the University of Bologna.

In prison, Mr Zaki, whose Senate in Rome voted to grant him Italian nationality, was “electrocuted and tortured”, his defenders assured.

Far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said, “Our commitment to a positive solution to the case of Patrick Zaki has never stopped, it continues”.

Under the autocrat Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011), freedoms for intellectuals were restricted, but they have been further reduced since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in 2014.

Egypt ranks last, along with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China, in a ranking of academic freedom in the world established by the Academic Freedom Index.

Since 2014, the authorities have been carrying out a brutal crackdown against academics as well as journalists, artists, lawyers, trade unionists and political activists.

According to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, since 2013 hundreds of students and academics have been arrested for their Islamic views and a dozen researchers are jailed for their work.

– “freedom of worship” –

In 2016, the case of Giulio Regeni, a young Italian researcher who was found dead in Cairo with a decomposed body, caused a wave of shock. While associated with the University of Cambridge, he worked on trade unions, a very sensitive topic in Egypt.

The death in custody of Egyptian economist Ayman Hadhoud in 2022 sparked anger in the United States.

Cairo, for its part, is promoting its new “human rights strategy”.

On Tuesday, the authorities issued a “quarterly human rights bulletin” in which they claim to have legalized “216 churches and associated buildings” in the past three months to promote “freedom of worship”.

Despite these symbols, Coptic activists claim to be victims of discrimination for building churches or accessing public service.

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