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Egypt sentences rights researcher Patrick Zaki to three years in prison

Zaki was charged with spreading false information over an article he wrote about the plight of Egypt's Christians
Egyptian researcher Patrick Zaki is pictured at his family home in Cairo, on 9 December 2021, following his provisional release (AFP)

An Egyptian court sentenced rights researcher Patrick Zaki to three years in prison on Tuesday, on charges of spreading false news on social media.

Zaki, a 30-year-old LGBTQ+ rights activist, was arrested in February 2020 after he published an article on the plight of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority community, of which he is a member.

Zaki served 22 months in pre-trial detention before being released, pending trial. He was taken into custody again after the emergency state security court ruling in his hometown of Mansoura.

The sentence cannot be appealed in higher courts, but it can be ratified or annulled by the president.

Zaki was a postgraduate student at the University of Bologna in Italy at the time of his arrest and was working on a master's degree in women and gender studies. He was also a researcher at Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a human rights advocacy group based in Cairo.

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Zaki was arrested at Cairo airport upon returning from Bologna for a family visit in February 2020. He was questioned and interrogated by Egypt's National Security Agency and was locked in the notorious Tora Prison before his release.

The European Parliament raised his arrest in one of the sessions and addressed the fear of Zaki being subject to "torture with electric shocks" and beatings.

His case struck a chord in Italy, as it was reminiscent of the case of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, who was found dead in Cairo after being brutally tortured in February 2016.

In 2021, the Italian government granted Zaki honorary citizenship after more than 200,000 Italians signed a petition calling for support to his case.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has led a brutal crackdown on dissent since he toppled his democratically-elected predecessor Mohamed Morsi in a coup in July 2013. More than 65,000 people, including activists and politicians, have been jailed since.

Sisi has consistently denied that there are political prisoners in Egypt, framing the crackdown as part of a fight against terrorism.

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