Patrick Zaki has received a presidential pardon and has already left Gamasa Prison, where he had been moved on Tuesday by the Egyptian authorities after being handed a three-year prison sentence by the Mansoura Emergency Court judge.
The sentence immediately led to denunciations in Egypt and abroad from politicians and human rights organizations. These included the NGO that the researcher works with, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), together with a network of 43 Egyptian, Arab and international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the International Human Rights Federation and Amnesty International.
The latter organized a demonstration for Zaki on Tuesday evening in Bologna’s Piazza del Nettuno, where the crowd chanted “Free Patrick,” and another in Rome on Wednesday afternoon, to remind people that although it’s great news that Zaki – and a few others, including well-known lawyer Muhammad Al Baqer – have been pardoned, this “does not erase an unjustified conviction.”
On Tuesday, PD secretary Elly Schlein called on Foreign Minister Tajani to “give a report before the Chambers” on Zaki’s case, which, since the Bologna University researcher’s arrest in 2020, has called Italy’s actions into question and raised the issue of putting pressure to restart the trial of those accused of Giulio Regeni’s death, given the close cooperation in trade and energy between the two countries. The other political forces in opposition – M5S, +Europa, the Green-Left Alliance, Azione-Italia Viva – put out a joint call for Italy to “make its voice heard.”
Speaking on Canale 5’s Morning News directly from the Crisis Unit operations center at the Foreign Ministry, Tajani gave assurance that he was focusing his “full attention on the affair,” and claimed that the government in Rome had “contributed significantly” to secure the pardon that finally came for Zaki. At the same time, within hours of the sentencing, rumors were already circulating among Egypt’s most committed activists predicting a pardon. And, as local organizations have pointed out, sentences handed down by emergency courts require ratification by the Egyptian president, who, under the Constitution, can also opt for a pardon.
So, was the sentencing followed by the pardon a pre-planned strategy by those in charge in Cairo? It’s hard to prove such a conjecture, but it’s important to point out that the conviction of the 32-year-old, who had been imprisoned for denouncing the persecution suffered by Coptic Christians in Egypt, had prompted a number Egyptian politicians, activists and researchers to publicly announce their exit from the National Dialogue, the discussion process initiated by the government to discuss the new Human Rights Strategy drafted at the end of 2021 with civil society and political parties.
That document has been accused of being mere window dressing to prop up the government’s image in the eyes of the international community, but “lacking real improvements,” as a number of organizations, Egyptian and otherwise, have warned. At the same time, those taking part in the Dialogue include a number of distinguished activists, some of whom directly appealed to the general-president to pardon Zaki.
The first reassuring news in the Zaki case came on Tuesday from the secretary of the Human Rights Committee of the Egyptian House of Representatives, Mohamad Aziz, who said there would be a session of the Presidential Pardon Committee, which was followed by an announcement by the general coordinator of the National Dialogue, Diaa Rashwan, that the body would make use of its powers to support the scenario of a presidential pardon. The new chapter in this tortuous affair ended with Aziz’s announcement on social media that al-Sisi’s pardon had come because “the Dialogue’s invitation has been accepted.”
It remains to be seen when Al Baqer and the others will be released. Among the replies to Aziz’s statement, a number were already spotlighting the case of another young Egyptian who was allegedly called in by the police for questioning in June, and who has not been heard from since. Yet another judicial affair, with information that still needs to be verified, but which, as happens with most people who aren’t household names, is in danger of falling into oblivion.