Patrick George Zaki, 27, is a student enrolled at the University of Bologna. On Feb. 7, he was returning from Italy to Egypt to spend a short holiday with his family, but he never arrived home. A Coptic Christian, originally from a province in the Nile Delta, he was kidnapped by the Egyptian security forces at 4 a.m. on Friday, on his arrival at Cairo airport.
After a forced disappearance of around 24 hours, during which he was tortured and briefly transferred to a facility owned by the security apparatus in Cairo, he reappeared at the prosecutor’s office for western Mansoura, his native city, listed as suspect in investigative case file No. 7245. When he arrived there, he was finally allowed to have contact with his lawyers.
Patrick Zaki is a scholar and human rights activist. He is a researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) NGO, working on the issue of the rights of the Christian minority, the LGBTQI community, women and the freedom of expression. He is also known for his tireless work with lesser-known political prisoners. Furthermore, he has always publicly expressed his support for the truth and justice campaign for Giulio Regeni.
Late on Saturday afternoon, he was formally placed in pre-trial detention for 15 days and heavy charges were filed against him, the same ones that are systematically used against dissidents. Patrick is currently under investigation for spreading false news that could disturb social peace, calling for protests aimed at denigrating authorities and disturbing peace and security, promoting the overthrow of the regime and promoting terrorism and violence.
According to updates published on Twitter by a friend of his, Amr Abdelwahab, Patrick was illegally interrogated for 20 hours in the Egyptian State Security offices at the airport, where “he was deprived of all his legal rights like [the right to] a defence attorney and others.”
The police arrest report says that Patrick was arrested at his parents’ home on Saturday, thus erasing any trace of his actual arrest and interrogation. According to the same report, Patrick was arrested on a warrant for charges dating back to 2019.
According to the EIPR, during the 24-hour kidnapping, he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks, threatened and questioned on various aspects of his work and activism, and many of his personal belongings were destroyed or stolen. “These hours are crucial,” a friend of his told il manifesto, “they have to understand that holding him will cause them more problems than releasing him.”
Since September 2019, Patrick has been living in Bologna, where he is enrolled in the Master’s program in Gender and Women’s Studies, and where he is known as a brilliant and passionate young man. A petition was launched by his friends addressed to the University of Bologna, aiming to put pressure on the Egyptian government for the immediate release of the student.
A group of lecturers have also approached the university to ask it to take an official position. “It is essential to give an immediate signal of the most careful vigilance and well-motivated worry, if the Regeni case has taught us anything,” the petitioners write. There is no news at the moment of any official initiatives by Patrick’s university, whose offices have not yet responded to our request for comments.
On the other hand, Patrick’s colleagues from the Master’s program, from the PhD students’ and PhD holders’ association and from the Link Coordinamento Universitario inter-university students’ association have immediately expressed their solidarity, writing in a public appeal: “This is yet another slap in the face that our country has received from an inhuman regime, and it represents a further demonstration that Egypt has no intention of collaborating with Italy to finally shed light on the tragic end of Giulio; on the contrary, it fiercely persecutes anyone who sympathizes or takes an interest in the story of Giulio Regeni.” In the next few days, initiatives are planned in the university district of Bologna to pressure the university to express its opinion on the matter.
EIPR has denounced the fact that since October 2019, six members of its staff have been temporarily detained and interrogated “as part of a series of arrest and search operations that seem to target anyone considered politically active in any way.”
There are at least 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt, including emblematic figures of the 2011 uprising such as Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mahienour el-Massry, or prominent politicians such as former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.
The recent repression has also begun to affect the families of activists in exile abroad. Notoriously, Egyptian secret service employees are also highly active in Italy, as reported a few days ago by Giulio Regeni’s parents during the hearing before the parliamentary committee of inquiry on his death.
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