You are here

Egypt's Sisi pardons researcher a day after jailing sparked outcry

By AFP - Jul 20,2023 - Last updated at Jul 20,2023

CAIRO — Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi granted a pardon on Wednesday to researcher Patrick Zaki, state media said, a day after Zaki's three-year jail term sparked an outcry from local rights groups and Western governments.

The state-run Al Ahram newspaper said Sisi also granted a presidential pardon to Mohamed Al Baqer, the lawyer for Alaa Abdel Fattah, Egypt's best known political prisoner.

Zaki's sentence on Tuesday for "spreading false news" had prompted some participants to walk out of a government dialogue aimed at giving the opposition a voice.

Zaki, 32, was jailed over an article recounting the discrimination he and other members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority say they have suffered.

"Mohamed Al Baqer and Patrick Zaki should not have spent one day in jail for their human rights work," said Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), where Zaki worked.

"We welcome the news of their pardon and call for the immediate release of thousands still detained in Egypt on political grounds," Bahgat told AFP.

Word of the pardons came after the US State Department had said on Twitter it was "concerned" by Zaki's sentence and urged the "immediate release of him and others unjustly detained".

Zaki was studying at Bologna University in Italy until his arrest in 2020 while on a visit to Egypt.

Italy's far- right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who speaks regularly with Sisi, in a video message on Wednesday welcomed the news that Zaki would be freed and said "he will be back tomorrow in Italy", the ANSA news agency reported.

Zaki previously spent 22 months in pre-trial detention until December 2021. He was returned to custody following Tuesday's court ruling.

The government launched a "national dialogue" this year, hoping to bring in an opposition that has been decimated throughout a decade of repression since Sisi deposed his predecessor, the late Mohamed Morsi, after popular protests.




The dialogue has been met with scepticism by human rights defenders, who worry the state is burnishing its image while enacting the same draconian policies.

Since April last year, authorities have released 1,000 political prisoners amid much fanfare, but detained almost 3,000 more, Egyptian rights monitors said.

More than 40 Egyptian and international organisations — including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy — condemned Zaki's sentence, which they said followed "a trial rife with due process violations".

Rights defenders have said Zaki was beaten and electrocuted during his detention.

Thousands in Italy signed petitions calling for Zaki's release, and the country's senate voted in 2021 to grant him Italian citizenship.

National dialogue coordinator Diaa Rashwan — who also runs the State Information Service — said on Tuesday the dialogue's board of trustees had appealed to Sisi for Zaki's "immediate release".

Rashwan said a presidential pardon would "add new confirmation of the president's continued commitment" to "a positive climate for the national dialogue's success".

Rashwan had earlier asked that Baqer, 42, be pardoned. The lawyer is serving a four-year jail term, also for "spreading false news".

He was arrested in 2019 while attending an interrogation of his client, Abdel Fattah, a British-Egyptian dissident currently behind bars.

"Baqer will get out tomorrow, his birthday. I wish the same for all" other detainees, his wife Neamatallah Hisham wrote Wednesday evening on Facebook.

Al Ahram reported that other prisoners also received pardons, but did not name them.

Washington has repeatedly criticised the human rights record of Egypt, a key ally of the United States and one of its top military aid recipients.

Though voices within the US Congress had called for broader aid cuts to Egypt over its rights record, the administration of President Joe Biden withheld only $130 million in 2021.

In January, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Sisi to "free all political prisoners" while welcoming the "important strides" the country had made.


89 users have voted.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.