SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: February 07, 2020

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Bologna

Region & Country:Northern Africa | Egypt

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 7, 2020, Egyptian authorities arrested Patrick George Zaki, a postgraduate student in gender studies at the University of Bologna, apparently in connection with his human rights activism and research.

In addition to his university studies, Zaki conducts research and advocacy for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a human rights organization based in Cairo. Zaki reportedly works on gender issues and human rights, in Egypt.

On February 7, after more than five months of studies in Italy, Zaki returned to Egypt for a brief family visit. Upon arrival at Cairo International Airport, Zaki was reportedly detained by members of the Egyptian National Security Agency (NSA). Officers interrogated Zaki about his human rights activism and his time spent in Italy, and eventually transported him to an undisclosed location where he was allegedly subjected to torture, including beatings and electric shocks. Twenty-four hours after he was initially detained, authorities brought Zaki to a public prosecutor’s office, where he was ordered detained for an additional fifteen days.

According to EIPR, Egyptian authorities are investigating Zaki based on multiple allegations, including “publishing rumors and false news that aim to disturb social peace and sow chaos,” “incitement to protest without permission from the relevant authorities with the aim of undermining state authority,” “calling for the overthrow of the state,” “managing a social media account that aims to undermine the social order and public safety,” and “incitement to commit violence and terrorist crimes.” Zaki’s lawyer has reported that state authorities presented him with a record stating that he had been detained near his hometown based on a warrant allegedly issued in September 2019, one month after Zaki had traveled to Italy for his studies. Egyptian authorities have not publicly disclosed the evidentiary basis for Zaki’s arrest.

As of this report, Zaki is being held at a police station in Mansoura. Front Line Defenders, an international organization that supports at-risk human rights defenders, has reported that Zaki has been denied family visits and has only had limited contact with legal counsel.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the enforced disappearance and arbitrary arrest of a graduate student, apparently in connection with the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party. SAR is further concerned by reports that a student was subjected to torture while in state custody. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting or otherwise interfering in the nonviolent exercise of such rights, and to refrain from torture and other cruel or inhumane conduct that may violate international human rights treaties. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, enforced disappearances and arrests intended to restrict or retaliate against expressive or associative activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.