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Egypt: Court orders provisional release of rights activist Patrick Zaki

University student has been in jail for 22 months after his publication of an article about the plight of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority
The 28-year-old human rights advocate has campaigned for the truth about the 2016 murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni (Twitter)

An Egyptian court on Tuesday ordered the release of human rights activist Patrick George Zaki and adjourned his trial to 1 February 2022, rights activists and local media reported.

According to Mada Masr, the Emergency State Security Misdemeanour Court has ordered Zaki's release, but it is not immediately clear when the activist will be freed from his jail.

"I'm jumping for joy!" his mother Hala Sobhy told AFP. "We're now on our way to the police station in Mansoura," a city in Egypt's Delta, where Zaki hails from.

'It's a win with a bitter taste. He already spent two years in unjust detention and deplorable conditions,'

- Amr Magdy, Human Rights Watch

Zaki, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), had been studying at Italy's Bologna University when he was taken into custody upon his return to Cairo in February last year.

He is currently facing a range of charges, including "calling for protests without permission", "spreading false news" and "inciting violence and terrorism". 

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"It is a rare happy news for Patrick, his family and everyone who advocated for his release," Amr Magdy, Egypt researcher at Human Rights Watch told Middle East Eye. 

"But it's a win with a bitter taste. He already spent two years in unjust detention and deplorable conditions, including physical torture by the National Security agency when he was arrested," Magdy said, pointing out that he is still on trial. 

The trial of the Egyptian activist had been due to start before the state security court in the city of Mansoura, north of Cairo, on 14 September. 

But it was postponed for a second time - until 7 December - in a hearing attended by Zaki in the presence of Italian and Canadian diplomats.

Three other EIPR staff members, including the organisation's head, Gasser Abdel Razek, its criminal justice director, Karim Ennarah, and an administrator, Mohamed Basheer, were briefly detained in November last year after meeting with diplomats from France, the United States and several other European countries to discuss Egypt’s human rights conditions.

They were released in December after a high-profile international campaign calling for their release.

Solidarity campaign in Italy

Zaki, a 28-year-old human rights advocate, has campaigned for the truth about the 2016 murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni.

His arrest sparked a solidarity campaign in Italy, with politicians and activists urging Egyptian authorities to release him. 

Italian human rights activists have expressed concerns that Zaki could be at risk of torture and ill-treatment in Egypt's notorious prisons, drawing parallels with the torture of Regeni. 

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Regeni's family has also expressed solidarity with the detained activist.

In April, the Italian senate voted to approve a proposal by two lawmakers urging the government to grant Zaki Italian citizenship.

Meanwhile, more than 50 Italian cities have announced the granting of “honorary citizenship” of their city to Zaki. This was done, EIPR said, in order to show their appreciation for him as a human rights defender and to demand his immediate release in a campaign called 100 Cities with Patrick, launched by a group of human rights activists in Italy.

Egypt has embarked on a brutal crackdown on dissent since 2013, jailing more than 60,000 activists and imposing strict censorship measures on public discourse.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who led the 2013 coup, has consistently denied that there are political prisoners in Egypt, framing the crackdown as part of a fight against terrorism. 

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