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Egyptian authorities deny torturing detained activist

Egypt's public prosecutor's office said that no 'visible injuries' were observed on Patrick Zaky
A photo of Patrick Zaky from social media (Twitter)

Egypt has denied torturing detained activist Patrick Zaky while on a trip visiting his relatives.

The postgraduate student at Bologna University was arrested on 7 February at Cairo airport upon arrival for a family visit.

According to his lawyers the 28-year old Zaky was beaten and electrocuted by security forces while in custody.

However, on Sunday Egypt's public prosecutor's office denied that any mistreatment had taken place.

"He (Zaky) did not testify to suffering any harm or abuse during his arrest or detention," they said in a statement.

"The public prosecution also did not observe any visible injuries."

Zaky was detained on a warrant issued in September after he had left the country to pursue his studies.

He faces accusations including disseminating false news and misusing social media to disrupt public order, charges he has denied, according to the prosecutor's statement.

On Saturday, authorities rejected a motion for his release and ordered he remain in custody until he faces the prosecutor next week, said the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

'Escalating attacks'

Rights groups have regularly accused Egyptian security services of practising torture, allegations the interior ministry has denied.

Amnesty International has called for Zaky's immediate release, while Italy has also demanded that the researcher be freed.

His arrest has revived painful memories of the 2016 disappearance and murder of an Italian researcher in Cairo, a case for which Italian authorities are still seeking answers.

Doctoral student Giulio Regeni, 28, disappeared in January 2016 in Cairo, where he was carrying out research on Egyptian trades unions.

His badly mutilated body was found in a suburb of the capital a few days later, bearing the marks of torture.

On Sunday, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms said it had requested an independent probe into the allegations that Zaky had been tortured.

Critics of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his government are regularly targeted in an ongoing crackdown since the 2013 military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. 

The clampdown has led to the arrests of thousands of Morsi's Islamist supporters as well as secular activists, journalists, lawyers and academics.

"The escalating attacks on human rights defenders... show that Egypt under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a place where those who defend human rights do so at grave risk to themselves," Human Rights Watch said last week.