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Patrick George Zaki has been accused of disseminating false news about the country’s internal conditions to disturb security and social peace. His case is emblematic of the large-scale crackdown by the Abdel Fattah el-Sisi government on rights and freedoms in Egypt
Patrick George Zaki. Photo: Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights CC BY-SA 4.0
An Egyptian court sentenced activist and scholar Patrick George Zaki to three years in prison on Tuesday, July 18 for “disseminating false news about the country’s internal conditions to disturb security and social peace.”
The Emergency State Security Misdemeanors Court in Mansoura convicted Zaki on the basis of an opinion piece he wrote in 2019. The article published on the Daraj news website narrates Zaki’s experience as an Egyptian Christian.
He was taken into custody after the verdict and sent to Gamasa to serve his sentence.
The ruling of the court is not subject to appeal as Zaki’s trial was under the Emergency law, Mahmoud Hashem, an Egyptian journalist, said while speaking to Peoples Dispatch. As per this law, the sentence has to be ratified by the Egyptian President, who has the power to approve, annul, or amend the sentence, as well as the power to issue a presidential pardon, he added.
The court verdict has been widely condemned by human rights activists as yet another example of the dire state of freedom of speech and expression and state repression in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Zaki (30) is a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He was arrested by Egyptian authorities from Cairo airport in February 2020 when he arrived from Italy where he was pursuing a Masters degree.
Hashem recalled that “Zaki was transferred blindfolded to one of the offices of the National Security Agency in Cairo and then to Mansoura, where he was questioned about the nature of his work and rights activism. He was subjected to torture by beatings and electric shocks there.”
Zaki was in pre-trial detention for 22 months and was only released on bail in December 2021 after a campaign by human rights groups within and outside the country. As he was not allowed to travel abroad, he completed his Masters degree earlier this year through distance mode.
Reacting to the sentence Hashem said, “Patrick Zaki is a respected and active human rights researcher, and he does not deserve to be imprisoned.” He called on the Egyptian government to release him immediately.
Medhat Elzahed, the President of the Popular Alliance Socialist Party of Egypt, also condemned Zaki’s conviction in a statement issued on Tuesday. He claimed that the verdict is based on a fabricated investigation and is “a bad and revealing message” about President el-Sisi’s policies.
Elzahed claimed that the el-Sisi government’s policies – both in political and economic sectors – have brought doom to the country as they are based on the “logic of barracks and an iron grip,” and marginalize and exclude democratic and pluralist opinions.
Egypt needs the lifting of all restrictions on freedoms and opening of windows of hope of opportunities for democratic change with the participation and cooperation of all sectors, he said, adding that “this is only possible by changing policies and asserting the right to pluralism and respecting constitutional principles.”
Several other organizations and activists also condemned Zaki’s conviction and asked for his immediate release.
Prominent personalities such as human rights lawyer Ahmed Ragheb, journalist Khaled Dawoud, and Professor Nageh El-Borai announced their withdrawal from the National Dialogue process that el-Sisi has initiated with civil society. Dawoud cited the “non-implementation of the many promises of the release a number of prisoners whose freedom we have been calling for years, including Alaa Abd El-Fattah, Mohamed El-Baqer, Mohamed Oxygen, and Ahmed Doma, as well as a large number of those who have been held in pre-trial detention, such as Mohamed Adel, Marwa Arafa, Nermin Hussein, Sherif Al-Ruby, Manal Agramah, Safaa El-Korbeji and Hamdi El-Zeem. Freedom for prisoners of conscience.”
He added, “It is not possible to trust the seriousness of the dialogue with the continued imprisonment of the opposition.”
Since coming to power in a military coup in 2013, the el-Sisi regime has imposed widespread restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression and political activity. His government has banned political parties and trade union activities and unleashed massive state repression on the opposition. According to various reports, nearly 60,000 political activists, journalists, and human rights defenders have been imprisoned by the government.