#FreePatrick – The International Student Movement Stands in Solidarity with Patrick Zaki
On July 18th 2023, Patrick Zaki, a human rights researcher and former postgraduate student at University of Bologna (Italy), received an unjust three year imprisonment sentence by Egyptian authorities for the alleged accusation of spreading fake news, following 22 months of degrading conditions in pre-trial detention and a 6 month travel ban.
In his article, Displacement, Killing and Restriction: A Week’s Diaries of Egypt’s Copts, Zaki highlighted his own experiences of religious discrimination as a member of the Coptic Christian minority, which makes up 10-15% of the country’s population. The Emergency State Security Court of Egypt issued the prison sentence following the publication of the article. While in detention, Zaki was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, including beatings, electric shock, and other forms of torture. The international condemnation surrounding Zaki’s case led to his pardon by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Wednesday.
While the President’s pardon is a positive development, it does not address the underlying issue of political persecution in Egypt regarding academia and the research community. Egypt currently stands at the bottom of the Academic Freedom Index with thousands of students and researchers who have been subject to political persecution and are currently in custody or serving their sentence. The number of political prisoners in Egypt has increased significantly since April 2022, with over 3,000 detained and only 1,000 released.
The right and importance of academic freedom without censorship or reprisal is a vital principle of higher education. The arrest and detention of Zaki pose a threat for academics and students internationally to think freely and develop ideas without the fear of censorship. It is essential for academics, students, and researchers to learn, teach and work in a space where they are able to develop new ideas, ask questions freely, think critically, and investigate without retaliation.
The European Students’ Union and the Global Student Forum strongly stand in support of Patrick Zaki, whose conviction is in clear violation of academic freedom and freedom of speech. We condemn the unsubstantiated charges of disseminating false news, threatening national security, and incitement to overthrow the state leveled against him. It is evident that these charges are a pattern of the Egyptian authorities efforts to silence and intimidate academics with the aim to suppress dissenting voices and stifle the fundamental values of democracy and human rights.