In February 2020, an Egyptian student from the University of Bologna flies home for a few days of vacation with his family. He has not yet returned and today risks five years in prison for an article written in 2019. The story is that of Patrick Zaki, the activist who has been in pre-trial detention in a Cairo prison for almost 600 days. Zaki was stopped shortly after landing in his country, reappearing the next day with an arrest warrant on his back. Almost all the charges against him have been dropped, but the only one left standing (“spreading false news”) could cost him a sentence with no right of appeal.
Who is Patrick Zaki and why is he in prison
Patrick Zaki was born on June 19, 1991 in Mansura, Egypt, into a family belonging to the country’s Coptic Christian minority. He is a human rights activist and carries out research for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an Egyptian NGO, where he mainly deals with gender issues. In 2020 she is on leave from the University of Bologna to attend the Erasmus Mundus Master in Women’s and Gender Studies, a master’s degree that offers an ad hoc curriculum in gender and women’s studies. The experience is interrupted when he is kidnapped at the Cairo airport, on the occasion of what should have been a relaxing break from his academic activity.
The facts unfold quickly. Zaki lands in the Egyptian capital on February 7. He disappears into thin air and reappears the next day, in front of the public prosecutor’s office in his city Mansura, about a hundred kilometers from Cairo, in custody on five charges that could cost him 25 years in detention: threat to national security, incitement to illegal demonstration, subversion, dissemination of false news and propaganda for terrorism.
During the kidnapping, according to what will be reported by his lawyer, Zaki is beaten, tortured, subjected to electric shocks and threats of further violence, including sexual violence. A dynamic that worries above all due to the déjà vu with the murder of Giulio Regeni, the Cambridge University graduate student kidnapped and killed in Egypt for reasons that have yet to be clarified.
For Zaki, the arrest is just the prelude to an ordeal that holds him in a Cairo prison for 19 months. His stay in the cell is confirmed by continuous postponements of the trial, with intervals first of 15 and then of 45 days. “Between unscheduled hearings and held hearings, there will have been at least 20 occasions in which the judge felt that Patrick should remain in prison,” said Riccardo Noury, spokesman for the non-governmental organization Amnesty International. During the months of custody, Zacki was only able to meet lawyers and family members in very rare situations.