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Egyptian researcher faces charges of 'harming national security'

Since President Sisi led military takeover in 2013, his crackdown against critics has targeted dissidents, academics, activists, journalists and lawyers
Patrick Zaky is "at risk of prolonged detention and torture," according to Amnesty International spokesman in Italy (Twitter)

An Egyptian researcher and activist was arrested upon his arrival from Italy and charged with "harming national security" and with "broadcasting false news", lawyers and his employer said on Saturday.

Patrick Zaky, who is a graduate student at Bologna University, was detained at Cairo airport late on Friday as he arrived to visit his family, AFP reported.

He was held on a warrant that had been issued in September after he left to pursue his studies, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a prominent rights organisation where he is a researcher. The NGO said he was questioned about his research and activism.

Since President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi led a military takeover in 2013, a crackdown against critics has targeted prominent dissidents, academics, activists, journalists and lawyers.

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Zaky appeared before the public prosecutor on Saturday in his hometown of Mansoura, 130km  north of Cairo in the Delta region, security and judicial sources said.

Zaky faces charges of "incitement to protest without a permit", "inciting to overthrow the state", "running a social media account intent on... harming national security" and "broadcasting false news", as well as "promoting terrorist acts", they told AFP.

He will be held in custody for 15 days for further questioning.

Lawyers from two other rights groups in Egypt confirmed the list of charges.

EIPR said Zaky had been beaten and electrocuted by security forces while in custody overnight, claims that AFP could not verify.

The group called for his immediate release.

Riccardo Noury, Amnesty International's spokesman in Italy, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the researcher is "at risk of prolonged detention and torture".

Zaky is one of a number of human rights defenders to be arrested or who have died in custody since 2013. Sisi's government has overseen a broad crackdown against dissent, with as many as 60,000 people jailed.

On Friday, US Republican Senator Marco Rubio called on the Egyptian government to disclose the location of Mostafa al-Naggar, a prominent activist and former politician who has been missing for more than 16 months.

Last month, an American imprisoned in Egypt for more than six years on what he insisted were false charges died after a long hunger strike, the State Department said. Moustafa Kassem, a dual Egyptian-American citizen, was arrested in Cairo in August 2013 after the military coup that brought Sisi to power.