Patrick George Zaki will remain in prison. This was decided on Saturday by the Court of the Mansoura-2 district, which rejected the appeal filed by the lawyers of the Egyptian student enrolled at the University of Bologna who was arrested on Feb. 8 at Cairo airport.
There were hopes about the possibility that the 28-year-old human rights researcher might be released. According to a source close to his lawyer, Wael Ghaly, Patrick arrived in the courtroom escorted by a large police force. A wide array of representatives of the international press were present, but also from many Egyptian newspapers. “Something like that doesn’t happen even in the trials of important politicians or activists,” the source went on. Officials from the Italian Embassy and the European Union were also present at the hearing to monitor the trial.
Another of his lawyers, Hoda Nasrallah, told the Associated Press that Patrick was feeling better, as he was hopeful he would regain his freedom. The hearing lasted just ten minutes, in which the researcher recounted the details of the mistreatment and torture he suffered in the early stages of detention. Patrick told the court that he had been stripped, given electric shocks and interrogated “for at least six hours” at the airport before being transferred to another National Security facility.
Patrick’s lawyers focused on the procedural irregularities of his arrest in their petition for his release, recalling that the young man had been illegally detained for one day before appearing before a prosecutor and stressing the complete lack of any evidence against him.
“At first,” his lawyer, Mr. Ghaly, recounted, “the judge seemed persuaded. Then he received a phone call, which lasted a few minutes, after which he issued his decision confirming the arrest.” It is all too plausible to imagine that in such a delicate matter, the regime would not leave the decision up to a simple provincial magistrate. Given the politicization of the case, it’s not unlikely that the secret services, or even the presidency itself, are the ones who hold Patrick’s fate firmly in their hands.
Now, his legal team will have to wait 30 days for another appeal. On February 22, Patrick will appear again before the prosecutor, who will decide whether to renew his pre-trial detention for another 15 days. In Egypt, pre-trial detention can be renewed continuously for months or years. This is, in fact, how the regime is keeping thousands of people behind bars without them being convicted of anything. The charges against Patrick (including spreading false news, incitement to terrorism and subversion) are the usual ones invoked in all political trials.
There were immediate international reactions to the news. “Despite the campaign’s intense outrage at the ruling of the sustained detention, the decision does not come as a surprise,” said a Facebook press release by the international Patrick Libero campaign. “Since yesterday, the State’s various media institutions have portrayed international solidarity with Patrick as external interference with Egypt’s internal affairs, and his support campaign has been depicted as a ‘suspicious’ movement,” the campaign accused. Erasmo Palazzotto, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of inquiry into the death of Giulio Regeni, also put out a strong statement: “We have a duty to keep the spotlight on this country, Egypt, which can no longer afford to play with people’s lives with impunity.”
The Regeni family, which in recent days has advocated for a decisive intervention by the Italian government to help Zaki, spoke out from Genoa on Thursday to demand once again the recall of the Italian ambassador from Cairo. However, this possibility was ruled out a few days ago by Foreign Minister Di Maio, who said that that “only by having an ambassador there” would it be possible to achieve something, both for Patrick and in the matter of the truth about Giulio Regeni.
Meanwhile, the mobilization continues. On Saturday, a sit-in was organized near the Egyptian consulate in Milan. On Sunday, there was another sit-in in Rome at 5pm, organized by the university students, while on Monday evening all the seven cities that host the MA program in which Patrick is enrolled mobilized at the same time. “The Egyptian Government is betting on your short breath,” tweeted Amr Abdelwahab, Patrick’s friend and one of the organizers of the campaign. “[C]an you keep the pressure up one more week or you are tired already?”