Egypt Sends Patrick Zaki Back to Prison: National Dialogue Fades Away

Created for the graduation by Gianluca Costantin

The State Security Emergency Court in Mansoura, Egypt, sentenced Patrick Zaki, a researcher at the “Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights,” to three years in prison on Tuesday. He was charged with spreading “false news” after writing an article addressing discrimination against Copts in Egypt, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Rights and Freedoms, the organization he works for.

The initiative stated in a statement that the sentence is “not subject to appeal or cassation.” It also condemned the imprisonment of its researcher, Patrick George, for three years by the Emergency Court for writing an opinion article.

Zaki was referred to trial in September 2021 for publishing an article titled “Forced Displacement, Killings, and Constriction: A Week in the Diaries of Egypt’s Copts” in July 2019, where he narrated “violations” committed against Copts during that week.

Zaki had spent two years in pre-trial detention at Tora prison since his arrest in February 2020 at Cairo airport upon returning from Italy, where he was pursuing a master’s degree in gender issues at the University of Bologna. He was released on bail in December 2021 pending the case.

He faced charges including “broadcasting false news and data that could disturb public peace and social harmony, and using an account on the international information network to disrupt public order and endanger the safety and security of society.”

Before the verdict, Zaki had posted on his Facebook page: “I have now arrived at the Mansoura court, waiting for the start of the trial, and I hope, as usual, for the case to be resolved and for me to be allowed to travel normally.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of State expressed its concern about the three-year prison sentence imposed on the Egyptian human rights defender, Patrick Zaki, through a tweet, calling for his “immediate release” and that of other detainees.

The verdict against him sparked international condemnations, especially from Italy, where Zaki was studying before his arrest upon arrival in Cairo. Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni reaffirmed Italy’s commitment to granting him Italian citizenship, and the Italian Senate voted in favor of it.

Meanwhile, more than 40 Egyptian and international non-governmental organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, criticized the trial, deeming it a violation of the right to defense. Some of them stated that Zaki was subjected to beatings and electric shocks during his detention.

Additionally, members of the Egyptian National Dialogue’s Board of Trustees, including prominent human rights activist Negad El Borai, announced freezing their participation in the dialogue’s proceedings after Zaki’s sentencing. Negad El Borai wrote on his social media: “The verdict rendered my presence on the Egyptian National Dialogue Board useless, as it does not serve the idea of dialogue or human rights activism.”

Lawyer Ahmed Ragheb also announced on his Facebook page that “the verdict issued by the State Security Emergency Court against Patrick George, the researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, is a message that our attempt to participate in the national dialogue has failed, so I apologize for continuing.”

Khaled Dawood, Assistant Rapporteur of the Political Parties Committee in the political axis of the dialogue, declared his solidarity with Negad El Borai and Ahmed Ragheb and also froze his participation. He wrote on his Facebook page: “I announce my full solidarity with Mr. Negad El Borai, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Egyptian National Dialogue, and also with my colleague and friend, Ahmed Ragheb, as we have frozen our participation in the National Dialogue following the shocking verdict that sentenced our dear friend, Patrick George Zaki, to three years in prison.”

Furthermore, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights stated that since the activation of the Presidential Pardon Committee’s activity, around 1,151 people have been released, while 3,666 people have been arrested for the first time and detained in cases affecting “state security,” according to the authorities.

The committee’s work was activated on April 24, 2022, following a presidential directive, coinciding with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s call for the first national dialogue since assuming power in the summer of 2014. The committee issued lists of presidential pardons and other judicial decisions related to releasing prisoners.

Since the call for the dialogue, hundreds have been released through judicial decisions or presidential pardons in “opinion and expression” cases, with the committee’s member and lawyer, Tarek El Awady, previously stating that the number exceeded one thousand without specifying the number of “prisoners of opinion and opposition” among them.

According to Egyptian law, the Public Prosecutor has the authority to release detainees in pre-trial detention, while the President has the right to grant a full or partial pardon.

The number of political prisoners in Egypt is estimated to be close to 60,000, according to estimates from opposition groups abroad and human rights organizations. However, the Egyptian authorities deny the existence of political prisoners, asserting that prisons hold individuals facing judicial sentences or undergoing investigation.