The story of Patrick Zaki, from the beginning: the accusations, the arrest and the release from prison

from Marta Serafini and Alice Scaglioni

The story of Patrick Zaki, the Egyptian student of the University of Bologna jailed for 22 months, begins on 7 February 2020, with his arrest on returning to Egypt. The young researcher was released from prison on December 8, 2021

The story of Patrick Zaki, lo Egyptian student of the University of Bologna jailed for 22 months in Egypt and released on 8 December 2021, starts on 7 February 2020.

Patrick George Zaki a student enrolled in the Masters in Gender Equality Studies Gemma of the Alma Mater of Bologna. Born in Mansoura, Egypt, on June 16, 1991 to Coptic Christian parents, Zaki moved to live in the Emilian capital to attend the University.

On 7 February 2020 he was returning to Egypt from Bologna to visit his family for the holidays. When he arrives at the Cairo airport he is stopped by the Egyptian authorities.

As reported by some NGOs and lawyers, the student comes tortured during an interrogation during which he is asked about his work, his activism for the LGBT community and his collaboration with the Egyptian NGO Eipr.

The formalization ofarrest it is done the following day, February 8, 2020, when the researcher appears in Mansoura, his hometown, under arrest.

The allegations that are addressed to him are to incite violence, protests, terrorism and the management of a social account that would have the purpose of undermining public safety.

On 9 February, in Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, the city where Patrick lived and studied, a flash mob and the Farnesina begins to monitor the case: the first of this delicacy with the Egyptian authorities after that of the murder of Giulio Regeni, which took place in Cairo in 2016.

In addition to Italy, Europe also moves: the president of the European Parliament David Sassoli asks for the activist’s release and three days later another procession is held in Bologna, in which about 5 thousand people take part.

About two weeks after the arrest, the first renewal another 15 days for pre-trial detention. In court, Zaki defends himself by saying that he is not the author of the posts from which the accusation is made. The young student says he is fine, but asks to have his books.

March 5, 2020 comes transferred to Tora prison, in Cairo, considered one of the worst prisons in the world. In the meantime, his family is launching an appeal: Zaki suffers from asthma and without his medicines he could be getting worse. In addition, at that time the Covid pandemic broke out all over the world (on March 9, Italy enters lockdown) and parents fear even more for the conditions of their son.

But the parents’ appeal remains unheard and hearings are being postponed precisely because of the Coronavirus emergency. Yup they also interrupt the visits in jail. On June 16, 2020 Patrick spends his 29th birthday in prison and a month later the Egyptian court orders the renewal of the pre-trial detention, but for 45 days.

Only after five and a half months Patrick Zaki receives the first visit to prison. In December, during an international mobilization, actress Scarlett Johansson asked for Patrick’s freedom. The video with the Hollywood star goes around the world and helps to rekindle the spotlight on the case. Meanwhile, Zaki declares himself physically exhausted and depressed and says he would have liked to spend the holidays with his family.

February 1, 2021 marks yet another postponement, 45 days, of pre-trial detention for the Mansoura student and activist. The letters and messages Patrick sends to family and friends show a growing sense of anguish over his own fate as well as his own. right to education denied.

In April 2021 another postponement, again of 45 days. The Italian Parliament approves the motion requesting Italian citizenship for the Egyptian student and the life senator Liliana Segre also intervenes: I am in the Chamber voting as Patrick Zaki’s grandmother.

There is no shortage of mobilizations by exponents of politics, intellectuals, personalities from the university and other worlds. On June 16, 2021, Zaki turns 30 in prison.

On 23 August another postponement, still 45 days. But in September the turning point: a new judicial procedure opens for Patrick. The accusation, in this case, of spreading false news for an article published on the site Daraj
on the Coptic minority who wrote in 2019. The student faces up to five years in prison and the hearing set for December 7, 2021.

On 7 December 2021, finally, the news of Patrick Zaki’s release from prison. During the hearing, the student received the communication that he will no longer have to remain in prison. The following day, December 8, 2021, Zaki is released from the Mansoura police station and finds freedom in the embrace of his sister, mother and girlfriend.

Not over yet: on February 1, 2022 Patrick will have to appear again before the Court. Furthermore, there is a risk that he may have been released from prison and then rearrested on the first charges. happened in the past to other activists.