Reportage. ‘We must put pressure on the Egyptian government and make them understand that they are under watch.’

Bologna and Amnesty International rally for the release of Patrick Zaki in Egypt

“We have only one request, one message that we want to spread as loud and clear as possible: Patrick must be released immediately and his illegal detention must be subject to international investigation,” Giada shouts into the megaphone, a student at the University of Bologna and one of Patrick Zaki’s colleagues in the MA program. Zaki, an Egyptian student, was arrested by the Cairo regime on his return home for a holiday.

On Monday evening, around 300 protesters gathered in Bologna, including students, teachers and activists from Amnesty International. They were holding banners, yellow signs calling for Patrick’s “immediate release” and red signs proclaiming the message that “you can’t arrest research.” On Monday, for the second consecutive day, Bologna took to the streets for the release of the young man and stood alongside those who knew him, who went to classes with him or who used to go out with him in the evenings.

“Even if he is an Egyptian citizen, and therefore subject to those laws, it’s also true that Patrick is one of us, and we want him to return to Bologna immediately,” adds Anna, 22, a political science student.

“The Italian government must intervene immediately and guarantee Patrick international protection, for him and his family, because even if he is freed, he will be in the sights of the Egyptian secret services forever,” adds Mazn, an activist of Libyan origin living in Bologna, when it’s his turn at the microphone.

In Piazza Scaravilli, the heart of Bologna’s university district, local political figures can also be seen: the newly elected regional councillor Elly Schlein is present, as well as the top management of the University of Bologna.

“As soon as we heard the news, we contacted the relevant ministries. The Alma Mater counts the freedom of persons as one of its fundamental pillars, and that is why we ask, demand and hope, at the very least, for the respect of human rights,” explains the interim pro-rector of the University of Bologna, Mirko Degli Esposti.

“This must not be a matter that concerns only UNIBO — everyone should be worried about the fate of Patrick Zaki,” adds former rector Ivano Dionigi. But these words are not enough, and we hear some students say, “we need to do more.”

Few are saying the name of Giulio Regeni out loud, but the fate of the Italian researcher is in everyone’s thoughts. “It absolutely must not happen again. We must put pressure on the Egyptian government and make them understand that they are under watch,” says Riccardo Rifoldi, the local Bologna coordinator of the Italian PhD Students’ Association.

But that terrible prospect is still far from people’s minds: nobody wants to think of the worst possible outcome, as everyone remains focused on the here and now, on demanding the release of their colleague and friend. “We are in contact with Patrick’s lawyers in Egypt,” explains Francesca Santoro of Amnesty Bologna. “The situation is fluid, and we don’t even know what the charges are, as they are changing from hour to hour. It’s a sign that the regime will try to use every excuse to keep him in prison. As Amnesty, we want to prepare one initiative per day to keep people’s attention focused, and we would also like to demonstrate in Rome.”

It’s not just Amnesty upholding the ranks of the mobilization, but also the international network of students connected with the MA program attended by the Egyptian student. The GEMMA program, a two-year Master’s Degree in Gender and Women’s Studies, is organized by a large consortium of universities: in addition to Bologna, they are located in Granada, Oviedo, Utrecht, York and Budapest.

“The academic communities are mobilizing,” says Rita Monticelli, the program coordinator. “We are in contact with Canada, Germany, the US and other countries” from where people had the opportunity to share a classroom with Patrick. Further events are planned over the coming days.

The aim is to expand the mobilization like wildfire, beyond the borders of the University of Bologna. The wave of support is still far from cresting. The student representatives are planning to have a statement on the daily agenda of every department expressing support for Patrick. Francesco Lopes from the Link Bologna student association explains: “It’s not enough to make statements: you have to do more, always more, and you have to do it quickly.”

“Patrick is a wonderful person. He was chosen, like all of us, to take part in this European Master’s program, and he won a two-year scholarship. We want him back here right away.”

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