Trial of University of Bologna student in Egypt postponed again
For over two years, Patrick Zaki, a student at the University of Bologna and human rights defender, has been detained and awaiting trial for publishing an article that refers to discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt.
The European Students’ Union (ESU), the European University Association (EUA) and the Unione degli Universitari (UDU), the national students’ union of Italy, condemn the treatment of Patrick Zaki in the strongest terms and call upon the Egyptian authorities to drop the charges against him and allow him to return to his university to finish his studies.
Matteo Vespa (President of ESU): “We demand that the United Nations together with the European Union and African Union assess the situation of human rights in Egypt. Cases such as the ones of Patrick Zaki, Ahmed Samir and Giulio Regeni showcase that the international community needs to take actions to pressure the Egyptian government to uphold fundamental human rights and to respectively protect academic freedom.”
Michael Murphy (President of EUA): “We call on the Egyptian authorities to fully release Patrick Zaki and allow him to return to his studies immediately. It is extremely concerning to see researchers detained for simply carrying out academic work.”
Giovanni Sotgiu (President of UDU): “Last year, Egypt published the National Human Rights Strategy (NHRS), declaring that it wanted to ensure a greater commitment to human rights. This strategy has not been followed up by the hoped-for actions: a new investigation by Amnesty International shows that the situation has not improved at all, suggesting that the NHRS is more of a ploy to conceal the incessant violation of human rights. Patrick is already serving a sentence without having been convicted, for almost three years he has been deprived of his freedom, with a ban on travelling, returning to Bologna and continuing his studies. It is time for the Italian government to act. This situation can no longer be tolerated by the Italian and European institutions.”
Patrick Zaki had worked as a human rights researcher, with a focus on gender and sexual minorities, at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent human rights organisation. Since 2019, he has been studying for a Master’s degree in Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Bologna.
During a visit to Egypt in February 2020, he was arrested and charged with “disseminating false news”, “incitement to protest” and “incitement to violence and terrorist crimes”. According to his lawyers, he was subjected to torture and mistreatment in prison by National Security Agency (NSA) officers. On 8 December 2021, after 22 months in detention, some of the charges were lifted, and Zaki was provisionally released from prison. However, he still faces a trial for “spreading false news inside and outside of the country”. If condemned, he could face up to five years in prison.
Since his release almost a year ago, hearings have been postponed several times without a compelling reason. The next hearing is scheduled to take place on 29 November.
Amnesty International regards Patrick Zaki as “a prisoner of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released as he is held solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression”. Scholars at Risk has called on Egyptian authorities to “take any available action to drop all charges against him, secure his unconditional release, and allow him to fly back to Bologna so he may complete his Master’s program”.