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Israel-Palestine war: Egyptian writer banned from speaking in Italy for calling Netanyahu 'serial killer'

Human rights researcher Patrick Zaki was banned from multiple events in Italy after he criticised the Israeli leader in light of Israel's bombardment of Gaza
Egyptian rights researcher Patrick Zaki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Cairo in July 2023 (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Egyptian rights researcher Patrick Zaki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Cairo in July 2023 (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

Egyptian human rights researcher Patrick Zaki has been banned from multiple events in Italy to publicise the launch of his new book, following a social media post in which he described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “serial killer”.

Zaki, a 30-year-old LGBTQ+ rights activist and researcher at the University of Bologna, who had previously spent almost two years in pre-trial detention in Egypt, was in Italy this week to launch his first book, Dreams and Illusions of Freedom.

His comments, in which he does not name Netanuyahu directly, came amid a week of Israeli air strikes on Gaza, which have killed more than 2,750 Palestinians

The assault followed an unprecedented attack in which Palestinian fighters led by Hamas breached the barrier fence surrounding the besieged enclave and killed more than 1,400 Israelis.

Zaki’s Facebook post elicited a slew of event cancellations as his book launches across Italy.

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On Friday, La Repubblica reported that Zaki’s appearance on the first episode of the new season of the Italian talk show, Che Tempo Fa, was being removed and the episode was being re-edited before broadcast. The show’s host Fabio Fazio announced that Zaki’s slated appearance in the episode had been cancelled.

This was shortly followed by an announcement from the Sermig Arsenal of Peace, a Turin based NGO, that Zaki’s slated book launch at the Turin Book Fair on 17 October had been cancelled.

Translation: When a serial killer tries to convince the international community that he respects international conventions, to legalise the killing of civilians. Where can they go!!!

Also on Friday, Laura Castelletti, the mayor of Brescia, announced that Zaki had been barred from attending the town’s peace conference, where he was slated to deliver an inaugural speech. 

“His comments about Israel do not represent the city,” Castellati said in a statement.

Castellati added that all of Zaki’s launch events in the city have been cancelled, and that she is demanding that Zaki’s peace award, previously bestowed on him by the conference during his imprisonment, should be withdrawn.

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“If Italian public opinion thinks that because they helped him get out of prison, that he has to limit his opinions to the Egyptian regime…then what do we believe in?” Samar Elhussieny, an Egyptian human rights defender, told MEE.

“Does [the West]’s solidarity for political prisoners come with the price that we shouldn’t speak up when we see that [their] values are not consistent with international law?” Elhussieny said.

Zaki’s autobiography recounts the 22 months he served in pre-trial detention in Egypt, following his arrest in February 2020 while he was a postgraduate student at the University of Bologna, for writing an article on the plight of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority community, of which he is a member.

On 18 July 2023, he was sentenced to three years in prison by an Egyptian court on charges of spreading false news but was then pardoned a day later by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Zaki was subjected to torture during his detention, including electric shocks.

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 in support of his case.

Translation: In the Israel-Palestine conflict, no one can be considered pro-Hamas if they support Palestine. I'm not with Hamas but it would seem that taking the position of defending Palestinian civilians will put you in a problematic situation, especially since the international media is all pro-Israel and does not talk about the grave human crisis on the other side.

My priority will always be the lives of civilians, I will always condemn any violence against civilians around the world, but in doing so I will always be on the side of the weak and against fascism and occupation.

I have been and will continue to be an ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause and of the right of the Palestinian people to regain their homes and lands, which have been violently plundered throughout history. The racist and colonial policies of Netanyahu's government form the root of the seemingly perpetual state of war we now find ourselves in, resulting in the tragic loss of thousands of civilian lives, including innocent women and children.

My commitment has always and invariably been guided by the protection of humanity and human rights. I will never be able to endorse or justify acts of violence or murder. On the contrary, I firmly support the right of the Palestinian population to resist and defend itself, detaching such defence from the conservative and obscurantist religious policies of Hamas.

Judging current events in Palestine without taking into account the long history of the Palestinian question and its roots, without placing them in a historical context, is equivalent to a distorted and partial vision of reality. This perspective is unfair and needs critical reconsideration. My support is for the Palestinian people in difficulty, for truth and justice wherever they are needed, and my position will remain on the side of the oppressed and all civilians who have lost their lives.

The European Union must use its human rights principles by condemning violence on both sides. This war must be stopped and human lives must be saved. I express my thoughts and prayers for the Italians involved in this conflict, with the hope that they can remain safe and soon hug their loved ones again.

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