Criminalisation of Patrick Zaki contradicts presidential message at the launch of Egypt’s National Strategy of Human Rights
Minority Rights Group (MRG) is deeply concerned with the referral of researcher and human rights advocate Patrick George Zaki to trial. Zaki’s trial commenced on 14 September 2021 in the State Security Misdemeanours Court but was adjourned to 28 September. His indictment by the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) is based on an article he wrote for Daraj in 2019, entitled ‘Displacement, Killing and Restriction: A Week’s Diaries of Egypt’s Copts’.
Zaki was arrested on arrival at Cairo International Airport in February 2020 from Bologna, Italy where he was enrolled in a Master’s program. He was tortured, including with electric shock, and threatened with further attacks. There are irregularities in the facts presented which suggest his arrest occurred in Mansoura governorate rather than at the airport. He was subsequently accused of: ‘…publishing rumours and false news that aim to disturb social peace and sow chaos’; ‘incitement to protest without permission from the relevant authorities with the aim of undermining state authority’; ‘calling for the overthrow of the state’; ‘managing a social media account that aims to undermine the social order and public safety’; and ‘incitement to commit violence and terrorist crimes’. None of the charges were backed up by evidence.
After more than 19 months in pre-trial detention, Zaki had been referred to the Mansoura II State Security Misdemeanours Court on charges of ‘disseminating fake news’ based on his Daraj article, which describes several experiences Coptic Christians go through in their daily lives. As a state security special court, the sentence cannot be appealed, indicating further abrogation of the right to a fair trial.
The article cited violations against Coptic Christians in Egypt and are in line with MRG’s findings over several years.
This referral sets a dangerous precedent risking criminalisation of human rights work.
This referral comes days after the National Strategy for Human Rights was launched, in which President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi urged civil society to ‘spread awareness of the human rights culture and… contribute to achieving the aspirations of the Egyptian people.’ Yet the actions taken against Zaki directly contradicts this message. The silencing of human rights researchers through torture and intimidation can only hinder the spread of a culture of human rights in the country.
MRG demands that the Egyptian authorities immediately stop the criminalisation of human rights work, particularly that which focusses on minorities and other marginalised communities. Instead, the authorities should immediately launch an independent investigation into unlawful arrests and practices of torture, and end lengthy remand detentions and the targeting of human rights activists.
Photo: Patrick Zaki. Credit: Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.