Patrick is a free man. At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 2 p.m. Italy time, the Egyptian student from the University of Bologna left the Mansoura police station. His paperwork was finalized, his fingerprints taken and he appeared in the street, still dressed in the white overalls of a prisoner.
A little more than 24 hours after the decision of the court for security crimes in Mansoura, his hometown in the Nile Delta, Patrick Zaki was able to embrace his family once again. In just a few minutes, those images were shared on social media around the world.
People could not contain their happiness: his sister Marise, his girlfriend, his mother, with hugs without end and almost disbelieving smiles. Meanwhile, in Rome, near the headquarters of the Egyptian embassy in Italy, there was a new mural by the street artist Laika: similar to the one painted 22 months ago, when Patrick was arrested at Cairo airport on his way back from Bologna, it shows Giulio Regeni once again embracing him. “We’re almost there,” the Italian researcher who was killed in 2016 tells him. “Keep holding on to me,” Patrick replies.
Shortly afterwards, Patrick spoke with Italian journalists at his home in Mansoura, wearing a black sweater, after he had time to post a smiling photo of himself wearing the University of Bologna T-shirt that was sent to him by the university. “I want to be in Italy as soon as possible, as soon as I can I’ll go straight to Bologna, my city, my people, my university,” he told Ansa. In an interview with Marta Serafini of the Corriere della Sera, he said: “Thank you to all Italians: to those who supported me and to those who maybe didn’t do it actively, but knew about what was happening with me: I was grateful for all the signals that came my way.”
His release was also celebrated in Italy by the Bologna team, which is eagerly expecting him “back at the Dall’Ara.” The rector of the university, Giovanni Molari, said: “His place is here, in our community, together with his classmates and teachers who can’t wait to embrace him once again.” They are all aware that it’s not over yet.
Patrick is currently free, but the case against him prepared by the State Security Prosecutor’s Office is by no means closed. He is still on trial for spreading false news (a political offence, punishable by up to five years in prison). The next hearing is scheduled for February 1, 2022.
This gives a few months for his legal team, led by lawyer Hoda Nasrallah, to review the documents they requested from the single-judge court on Tuesday: the contents of the file drawn up by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the reports of the NSA (the National Security Agency, the powerful institution which is also the main target of the investigation by the Rome Public Prosecutor’s Office into the kidnapping, torture and murder of Giulio Regeni) and the videos of the surveillance cameras at Cairo’s international airport.
It was there, on February 7, 2020, that Patrick was arrested, but the Egyptian authorities continue to deny this. They claim that they detained him in Mansoura, his hometown, two days later, a story that is useful for them to deny the illegal detention and abuse he was subjected to.
Human Rights Watch recalled these facts on Tuesday: “It is a victory that leaves a bitter taste,” commented Amr Magdi, an Egyptian researcher for HRW. “He has already spent almost two years in unjust detention and in terrible conditions, including torture by the NSA when he was arrested.” And now, the fear is that the Cairo regime will use his release to reduce some of the international pressure bearing on them “on high-profile cases.”
“Nothing is changing” in the treatment of political prisoners and critics of the regime, concluded Magdi. The battle for human rights in Egypt continues.