“I hope you are all well”—this is how Patrick Zaki began his last letter to his family, written with a blue pen on a ruled paper. He wrote it from Tora prison, where the regime holds political prisoners in conditions that are hard to even imagine. It is dated December 12. The family received it (along with a previous letter dated November 22) during a visit and made it public through the “Free Patrick” Facebook page, together with a new request for release.
“The latest decisions are disappointing and, as usual, for no understandable reason. I still have back problems and need strong pain medication and herbs to help me sleep better. My mental state is not good since the last court session. I keep thinking about college and the year I lost.”
These words are keeping his family trapped in helpless anguish: in recent weeks, the mental and physical condition of the University of Bologna student has worsened, after the repeated blows of the renewal of his preventive detention without ever going to trial.
“We appeal to the (Italian) embassy,” Patrizio Gonnella, president of Antigone, told Adnkronos on Sunday, “so that a medical team would be sent to check his physical and psychological condition.” Virginio Merola, the mayor of Bologna, the city where Patrick studied, also spoke out: “It is important that the Italian state should get its dignity back. In this situation, I think it would indispensable to at least withdraw the ambassador.”
What made Patrick’s perspective bleak was the last hearing, on December 7, when his detention was renewed for another 45 days. Moved forward by a month (it was set to be held in January), it had led to hopes that were shattered when it became clear that on that Sunday, a single court, that of the Third Anti-Terrorism Circuit in Cairo, would decide on the renewal (or release) of about 750 prisoners. 750 people in a twelve-hour session means 62 per hour, over one prisoner per minute.
These numbers are unprecedented even for the well-oiled Egyptian judicial machine, and render any aspiration to a fair trial or to the protection of the rights of the defense futile. As lawyers told Egypt’s independent agency Mada Masr: “Who was the judge supposed to hear? Which cases deserved a further look?” There was zero chance to even speak for the lawyers, forced—in some cases with their clients—to crowd into the courtroom in the middle of a pandemic, which has been used by the regime as a pretext to deny hearings and family visits for months.
All detentions were renewed, including that of the well-known lawyer Hoda Abdel Moneim and former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh, who was transported to court by ambulance: “Holding a session with such a large number of defendants and renewing the detention of all of them makes it nothing more than a symbolic exercise,” a lawyer explains. “What is the point of setting up a defense if, in the end, the court will renew detentions anyway, in violation of the law?”
The law still exists, but in the post-coup years it has undergone such substantial changes that it has been adapted to the repressive needs of the regime. Either way, it is still being violated. The Committee For Justice NGO, based in Geneva, is turning a spotlight on the prisons: since 2013, the year of the coup, 1,058 people have died in detention in Egypt, including 100 between January and October 2020.
In the report “The Giulio Regenis of Egypt,” the CFJ has collected all the cases of death according to age, detention facility and reasons: torture (144), lack of medical care (761), suicide (67), poor conditions in the cell (57) and other reasons (29). The report came out on the same day when, over in Italy, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Rome announced the closure of the investigation into the torture and murder of the young Italian researcher and the intention to request the indictment of four agents of the National Security in Cairo.
It became known on Friday that the face of one of them is also known: the one who helped the trade unionist Mohammed Abdallah turn off the camera provided by the secret services after recording the face and words of Giulio Regeni on January 7, 2016. On that occasion, Abdallah spoke with Giulio about the funds for the Antipode Foundation, 10,000 pounds, which, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, was the motive for the kidnapping and murder of the researcher.
In this context comes the news of the three-year sentences handed down on Sunday to nine policemen accused of the torture and murder of the 53-year-old fish seller Magdy Makeen, which took place at the al-Amiriya police station in Cairo in late 2016. A rarity in al-Sisi’s Egypt.
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