SAR Italy

Petitions appealing for the release of Patrick George Zaki Scholars at Risk Italy and the University of Trento on the front line to show the support of the academic community

One year after his arrest, the concern towards the case of Patrick George Zaki remains high in Italy. Zaki is an Egyptian student enrolled at the University of Bologna who was stopped by the Egyptian authorities on February 7th, 2020, and subsequently arrested and allegedly subjected to torture. According to Scholars at Risk, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the reasons behind his arrest are related to his activity as a researcher and human rights activist, in particular with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

Several initiatives have been promoted in support for Zaki’s release. Among the most recent, for the first anniversary of his detention, we mention the musical marathon “Voices for Patrick” promoted by Amnesty International, MEI and Voice for Freedom; the video message shared by a group of Italian members of the European Parliament to urge the EU to take strong actions; the online petition which asks the Italian Government to give the honorary Italian citizenship to Patrick Zaki.

During these last months, alongside civil society, NGOs and institutions, also various representatives of the academic community have stood up for the Egyptian student, aiming to reaffirm the inviolability of the right to education and academic freedom.
Among them, the Department of Sociology and Social Research of the University of Trento, in collaboration with the Italian Section of Scholars at Risk (SAR Italy), promoted a petition calling for the release of Patrick George Zaki addressed specifically to the academic community, which has been signed by many national and international Scientific Associations.

The initiative took place during the last months of the 2020 and followed the decision of the Egyptian Court, on December 7th, 2020, to extend the pre-trial detention for another 45 days. According to several international organizations, this decision has worsened Zaki’s health situation, which is already compromised by the harsh conditions in which he is currently detained. In particular, the phycological difficulties related to the imprisonment and the prohibition on meeting his family have been underlined. Now, these conditions are worsened by the risks related to Covid-19: in fact, Zaki suffers from asthma, and he is at particular risk if exposed to COVID-19.

The following Scientific Associations have signed the petition letter promoted by the Department of Sociology and Social Research: American Political Science Association (APSA), Association of Comparative and European Public Law (DPCE), Italian Association on Political Communication (AssoCOMPOL), Italian Association of Analytical Psychology (AIPA), European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR), Gramsci Institute of Sardinia, Italian Society of Cultural Anthropology (SIAC), Italian Political Science Association (SISP), Italian National Association of Economic Sociology (SISEC).

Addressing this petition letter to the Egyptian President al-Sisi, these academic institutions urge him to grant Zaki permission to wait for his trial at home with his family, where he could also recover from the physical and psychological suffering after many months of detention.

These initiatives calling for Zaki’s release have the twofold aim of keeping attention on the case in order to protect the Egyptian student and at the same time to urge national and international political institutions to pursue concrete actions. To this regard, a significant act was undertaken by the European Parliament last December: the EP approved a resolution that “reminds the Egyptian authorities that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms constitutes an essential element of EU-Egypt relations” and calls on Member States “to use all tools at their disposal to secure concrete progress in Egypt’s human rights record” (2020/2912(RSP)).

Considering all of the above, in order to reinforce actions addressing human rights abuses and academic freedom violations, the academic community is asked to play a central role in monitoring and defending the conditions of scholars and students. Indeed, this calling derives from the fact that universities are the places of concrete realization of the right to academic freedom, enshrined in the Italian Constitution (art.33) and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (art.13).

The importance of promoting initiatives such the one by the Department of Sociology and Social Research is further highlighted by the latest developments in Egypt: on February 2nd, 2021, Amnesty International confirmed that the Egyptian Court renewed Zaki’s detention for another 45 days.

Therefore, on the first anniversary of Zaki’s imprisonment, the commitment of universities and academic institutions must continue with even more strength and determination, finding its basis in the awareness that the right to education and to academic freedom concerns everyone, and its violation undermines all of us.

For the support to this initiative, we would like to express our thanks to:
Antonio Martella, Elena Pavan, Gabriele D’Ottavio, Katia Pilati, Mario Diani, Paolo Barbieri, Simona Piattoni of the University of Trento, Sabrina Perra of the University of Cagliari, Angela Di Gregorio of the University of Milano, Alessandra De Coro for the Italian Association of Analytical Psychology, Cristopher Cepernich for the Italian Association on Political Communication, Francesca Longo for the Italian Political Science Association, Ferdinando F. Mirizzi for the Italian Society of Cultural Anthropology, Gabriele Ballarino for the Italian National Association of Economic Sociology, Janet Box-Steffensmeier for the American Political Science Association, Kris Deschouwer for the European Consortium for Political Research, Margherita Sabrina Perra for the Gramsci Institute of Sardinia, Rolando Tarchi for the Association of Comparative and European Public Law.

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