Egypt judges detained researcher on his return from Italy over fake news

A banner depicting Patrick Zaki, an Egyptian scholar who studied in Italy before being detained and imprisoned in his home country, is displayed on the facade of the Capitoline Hill in Rome, Italy, January 25, 2021. REUTERS / Yara Nardi

MANSOURA, Egypt, September 28 (Reuters) – Egyptian researcher Patrick Zaki, detained for 19 months since his arrest on a return trip from Italy, was on trial on Tuesday for spreading false news about an article he he wrote about the fate of the Christians in Egypt. .

Zaki, 30, a graduate student at the University of Bologna, was jailed in February 2020 while visiting Egypt to see his family. He appeared at the start of Tuesday’s hearing in a courtroom cage, where his handcuffs were removed.

The case resonated in Italy, which was shocked by the 2016 murder in Egypt of Italian student Giulio Regeni.

Zaki was sentenced earlier this month to a fast-track trial in a state security court in his hometown of Mansoura, about 113 km north of Cairo. He pleaded not guilty in a brief hearing on September 14.

He could face a combined sentence of up to eight years for spreading false news inside and outside Egypt, said Hossam Baghat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights (EIPR), a leading independent rights group in which Zaki also worked as a researcher.

His indictment is based on a 2019 article for the Daraj website, in which he chronicled a week of monitoring the impact of events in Egypt on his Coptic Christian minority.

The EIPR says Zaki was beaten, subjected to electric shocks and threatened after his arrest. The Egyptian authorities have not commented on these allegations, but they regularly deny the allegations of ill-treatment by the security forces and in places of detention.

Since 2013, when then army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, a massive crackdown on political dissent has been carried out in Egypt. Rights groups say tens of thousands of people have been jailed.

Sisi, president since 2014, says security and stability are paramount and denies that there are political prisoners in Egypt.

Earlier this month, the government released a long-term human rights strategy which it says provides a roadmap to support a wide range of rights.

Report by the Cairo newsroom Editing by Peter Graff

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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