On Wednesday, the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al Sisi, pardoned Patrick Zaki, the Egyptian activist and student of the University of Bologna who had been detained for almost two years between 2020 and 2021 for political reasons, and who yesterday was sentenced to three years in prison. It is not yet clear whether the Italian government played a role in the Egyptian president’s pardon granting. Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani commented on the pardon on Twitter, writing rather vaguely that “thanks to the government’s foreign policy we have made a decisive contribution to freeing this young student”.
The first hearing of Zaki’s trial in Mansoura, Egypt, took place on Tuesday after it had been postponed many times in recent months: Zaki was sentenced to three years and his lawyers said they had not received any explanations on the charges against him . However, the sentence was final and did not allow for appeals, because it had been handed down by a special Egyptian court set up during the period of the state of emergency for security ordered by Al Sisi in 2017 (which lasted 4 years, until October 2021, but which still included Zaki’s case).
There was therefore talk right away of the presidential pardon as one of the very few possibilities left for Zaki to avoid prison. Zaki had already served one year and 10 months in prison and with the sentence he should have served another year and 2 months. After his conviction on Tuesday he was taken to a police station in Mansoura, where he was able to meet his mother and where he spent the night.
Zaki was arrested in Egypt in February 2020 on charges having to do with his opinion piece critical of the Egyptian government. The article, published in 2019 on the online journal Daraj, criticized the government’s treatment of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community (to which Zaki’s family belongs). On these grounds he had been accused of “dissemination of false news aimed at undermining social peace”, “inciting social protest without permission”, “inciting to commit acts of violence and terrorism”, “management of a social account that weakens security public” and “call for the overthrow of the state”: all accusations judged false and specious by independent observers.
In 2020 Zaki was attending a master’s degree in gender and women’s studies at the University of Bologna and had left by plane for Egypt to spend some days with his family. Arrived at the airport, however, he was arrested, and according to his lawyer’s account, he was then tortured in various ways: blindfolded and taken to Mansoura, his hometown, he was then beaten, stripped, subjected to electric shocks, verbally abused and threatened of rape. In the following months he was transferred from Mansura prison to Tora prison in Cairo, known for hosting political prisoners, and was held in harsh and degrading conditions. For many months he had been denied the possibility of communicating with the outside world and receiving visits from his family.
On December 8, 2021, he was released from prison by a court decision, pending subsequent hearings, until yesterday’s conviction and the pardon received today.