Scholars at Risk sent to Egyptian authorities the below letter raising concern over the recent indictment against Patrick George Zaki, a postgraduate student of gender studies at the University of Bologna, Italy. Mr. Zaki is awaiting trial before the Mansoura II State Security Emergency Court on a charge of “spreading false news inside and outside of the country,” apparently based on an article he wrote in 2019. If convicted, Mr. Zaki faces up to five years in prison and would be stripped of his right to appeal. SAR calls on Egyptian authorities to secure his immediate release and drop any charges against him.
You can support Mr. Zaki by signing this letter in your own name.
Via email to the Honorable Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
President, Arab Republic of Egypt
October 8, 2021
RE: Drop charges and immediately release Patrick George Zaki
I write on behalf of Scholars at Risk to express grave concern for Mr. Patrick George Zaki, a postgraduate student of gender studies at the University of Bologna, Italy, who is detained in Egypt in apparent retaliation for his peaceful expressive activity. Mr. Zaki is awaiting trial before the Mansoura II State Security Emergency Court on a charge of “spreading false news inside and outside of the country,” apparently based on an article he wrote in 2019. If convicted, Mr. Zaki faces up to five years in prison and would be stripped of his right to appeal. I therefore respectfully urge you to instruct the relevant authorities to immediately release Mr. Zaki and drop any charges against him.
Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of more than 500 universities and colleges in 42 countries dedicated to protecting the human rights of scholars around the world, and to raising awareness, understanding of, and respect for the principles of academic freedom and its constituent freedoms of expression, opinion, thought, association, and travel. In cases like this, involving alleged infringement of these freedoms, SAR investigates, hoping to clarify and resolve matters favorably.
Mr. Zaki is a postgraduate student at the University of Bologna, Italy, where he is pursuing an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Degree in Women and Gender Studies. Scholars at Risk understands that, in addition to his university studies, Mr. Zaki conducts research and advocacy on gender issues and human rights for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights organization based in Cairo.
On February 7, 2020, after starting his studies at the University of Bologna, Mr. Zaki returned to Egypt for a brief family visit. Upon arrival at Cairo International Airport, the Egyptian National Security Agency reportedly arrested Mr. Zaki, interrogated him about his time in Italy and his human rights work, and brought him to an undisclosed location where he was allegedly subjected to torture, including beatings and electric shocks. For the following nineteen months, authorities extended Mr. Zaki’s detention several times.
On September 13, 2021, the State Security Supreme Prosecution indicted Mr. Zaki with a charge of “spreading false news inside and outside of the country,” based on an article Mr. Zaki wrote about his experiences as a Coptic Egyptian. The article, titled “Displacement, Killing, and Restriction: A week’s diaries of Egypt’s Copts,” was published in Daraj in July 2019. On September 14, Mr. Zaki was brought before the Mansoura II State Security Emergency Court for the first trial session of his case. At the September 14 hearing, Mr. Zaki’s trial was postponed to September 28. On September 28, Mr. Zaki’s lawyer asked for a postponement in order to study a certified copy of the documents presented by the prosecution, which had not previously been provided to her. The court postponed the trial to December 7. If convicted, Mr. Zaki faces up to five years in prison. SAR understands that rulings given by the emergency court are not subject to appeal.
The indictment against Mr. Zaki came a day after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presented the National Strategy for Human Rights 2021-2026, which purportedly aims to enhance respect for civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights. The continued prosecution and detention of Mr. Zaki for his peaceful expressive activity appears in stark contradiction with the promises of the human rights strategy.
I welcome any additional information that may explain these events or clarify my understanding. Absent this, Mr. Zaki’s detention, reports of torture, judicial harassment, and prosecution—in retaliation for exercising his right to free expression—suggest a troubling disregard for international standards of due process, fair trial, and the humane treatment of prisoners, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party.
I therefore respectfully urge you to instruct the relevant authorities to immediately release Mr. Zaki and drop any charges against him; and, pending such action, ensure his well-being and access to proper medical treatment, legal counsel, and family.
I appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your reply.
Minister Mahmoud Tawfik
Ministry of Interior, Arab Republic of Egypt
The Honorable Mohamed Hossam Abdel-Rahim
Minister of Justice, Arab Republic of Egypt
The Honorable Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Honorable Mr. Amr Mostafa Kamal Helmly
Ambassador of Egypt to Italy
His Excellency Mr. Alaa Youssef
Permanent Mission of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the United Nations Office
The Honorable Irene Khan
Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
The Honorable Luigi Di Maio
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Italian Republic
The Honorable Stefania Pucciarelli
President of the Senate, Italian Republic Commission for Human Rights
The Honorable David Sassoli
President, European Parliament
The Honorable Eamon Gilmore
EU Special Representative for Human Rights