Egyptian rights researcher and lawyer freed from detention

By Aidan Lewis

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian rights researcher Patrick Zaki and lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer were freed on Thursday, a day after being pardoned by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in cases that renewed attention to Egypt’s human rights record.

Zaki had served 22 months in pre-trial detention before being sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday for spreading false news over an article he wrote on the plight of Egypt’s Christians, and then pardoned a day later.

Zaki said in an interview with Reuters that he planned to travel on Saturday to Bologna in Italy, where he had been studying before he was arrested during a trip home in 2020.

“I’m really excited – super excited – to be back to Bologna,” Zaki said. “After this moment of announcing the final verdict it was really hard, I was thinking that I will go through the nightmare again.”

Zaki said he hoped the pardon from Sisi could lead to the freeing of other detainees and the repeal of travel bans imposed on activists, among them several current and former colleagues of his at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent research group.

“I hope that it will be a sign that we will see more releases for all the prisoners of conscience,” he said.

Since late 2021 Egypt has taken a number of steps which it says are aimed at addressing human rights, including amnesties for some prominent prisoners, but critics have dismissed the moves as superficial and say arrests have continued.

Lawyer Baqer was arrested in 2019 while attending the interrogation of his client Alaa Abd el-Fattah, Egypt’s most prominent activist. He returned home on Thursday, his birthday, according to social media posts by his family and lawyers.

Abd el-Fattah, along with many other detainees swept up in a decade-long crackdown on dissent, remains in prison.

Zaki’s case had resonated in Italy, coming four years after the disappearance, torture and killing in Egypt of Italian student Giulio Regeni.

Four Egyptian security officials have been charged in Italy over Regeni’s murder. Egyptian officials have repeatedly denied involvement.

After picking up his diploma in Bologna, Zaki said he plans to return to Egypt to prepare for his wedding in September. “Then I will start my career again as a human rights defender,” he said.

(This story has been refiled to fix a typographical error in paragraph 5)

(Reporting by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Grant McCool)