By Mada Masr –
After 19 months in remand detention, researcher Patrick George Zaki was referred on September 13 to trial before an emergency court on charges of “spreading false news at home and abroad” for an article he wrote two years ago depicting his life as a Christian in Egypt.
At the first session on September 14 at an Emergency State Security Misdemeanor Court in Mansoura, judges decided to postpone the trial until September 28, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, where Zaki worked as a researcher.
Since it is an emergency court, it will not be possible for Zaki’s defense to appeal the court’s decision, except by direct petition to the military ruler, or a delegate.
A group of 10 human rights organizations released a joint statement on Monday condemning the trial, which they said was based on an article titled, “Displacement, killing and constraintment: The toll of a week for Egypt’s Copts.” In the op-ed, Zaki wrote from his personal perspective on his life as a Coptic Christian reading a series of news events published in Egypt about the religious minority.
The organizations who signed the joint statement depicted the emergency trial of Zaki as “an assault on the rights of all Egyptians to express themselves,” noting the “irony” that the trial was announced just two days after the Egyptian government launched its first ever national strategy for human rights at an hours-long celebration where the president spoke at length about freedoms of religion, belief, speech, expression and equality.
Zaki, who was pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Bologna, was traveling to Egypt to visit family in February 2020 when he was stopped at Cairo International Airport. He was held incommunicado for 24 hours, during which he was beaten and electrocuted before appearing at the public prosecutor’s office and ordered held on remand detention on charges that include spreading false news. At the time, lawyer Samuel Thabet told Mada Masr that following Zaki’s arrest at the airport, he was then moved to the National Security Agency site in his hometown of Mansoura, about 120 kilometers north of Cairo. There, he was, again, beaten, stripped and electrocuted on his back and stomach, according to statements from Zaki to Thabet and other lawyers. He was also verbally abused and threatened with rape.
This is the second time this year for an Egyptian researcher abroad to face an emergency trial. Postgraduate student Ahmed Samir Santawy was arrested in February while he was in Egypt on vacation from the Central European University in Austria. He was forcibly disappeared for several days until appearing again before the prosecution that ordered his remand detention on charges of terrorism and spreading false news. In June, he was handed a four-year prison sentence during an emergency trial. His family had since filed a grievance to the office that ratifies rulings from the emergency courts earlier this month.
The organizations who signed the statement are: EIPR, the Arab Network for Human Right Information, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, the Geneva-based Committee for Justice, Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies, Al-Nadeem Center For the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Violence, the Freedom Initiative, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.