The arrest and torture of Patrick Zaki, a gender and human rights researcher at the University of Bologna in Italy, upon his arrival at Cairo airport prompted angry reactions among Egyptian and Italian social media users and human rights activists.
People concerned about his safety are using the hashtag #FreePatrick in an effort to bring attention to his case. Meanwhile Egyptian authorities have released a statement explaining that Zaki is an Egyptian national who's been formally accused of "spreading false news."
#Egyptian graduate student Patrick George Zaki, 27, was detained at Cairo's international airport after returning from Italy on Friday. He had been on leave from local NGO @eipr while pursuing a master's degree in gender studies at University of Bologna https://t.co/tyOseJSMil pic.twitter.com/80jBI9ZuFz— Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy) February 9, 2020
Egypt's official statement came several days after Zaki's disappearance as a response to multiple Italian inquiries about the student's fate and in defense of the government's decision to arrest the activist known for his criticism of the Egyptian government.
Fatto gravissimo, se maltrattamenti confermati. Sicuro che il Ministro Manfredi sia già in contatto con la Farnesina per avere maggiori informazioni e garanzie rispetto diritti umani. Presenterò subito interrogazione sull'accaduto https://t.co/U5lCw1QlZ1 via @repubblica— Lorenzo Fioramonti (@lofioramonti) February 8, 2020
Translation: "Very serious news, if mistreatment is confirmed . Certainly Minister Manfredi is already in contact with the foreign ministry for more information and will guarantee their respect for human rights. I will demand immediate answers about what happened."
Zaki moved to Italy in 2019 where he was enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Bologna and was coming back to Egypt for a family visit before he was reportedly abducted at the airport on Friday night, human rights organizations say.
Zaki's lawyer says that he appeared in court and had clear marks of torture on his body.
Researcher and student Patrick George Zaki was arrested Friday from the Cairo airport. He was held incommunicado for 24 hours and was beaten and electrocuted. He is being held on a 15-day remand order with charges that include spreading false news: https://t.co/coUmiSPTdf pic.twitter.com/L3a22rHsCa— Mada Masr مدى مصر (@MadaMasr) February 9, 2020
According to the official statement, Zaki is accused of "publishing false news, inciting protests without permission and calling for the overthrow of the state."
After news of his arrest in Egypt, locals in Bologna gathered in a public square demanding his immediate release. Social media users also took to different platforms calling on Italian officials to take action that can ensure his safety and return to his school in Italy.
Translation: "Free Patrick Zaki! Bologna residents in the squares to ask for the immediate release of Patrick Zaki, Egyptian student at the University of Bologna arrested and tortured in Egypt."
Egyptian-Italian relations are still affected by the 2016 case of the Italian PhD student and researcher Giulio Regeni who was abducted and murdered in Egypt. Italian autopsy results concluded that Regeni was interrogated and tortured for up to seven days at intervals of 10–14 hours before he was finally killed in January 2016.
Egyptian authorities have since denied these allegations and claimed that undercover agents of the Muslim Brotherhood, an opposition Islamist group ousted by the current political regime, had carried out the crime to "embarrass the Egyptian government internationally."
Social media commentators linked the two incidents saying that officials have clearly learned the lesson and no longer target human rights activists unless they are Egyptians, so as to avoid international criticism.
Tweets highlighted the irony that Egyptians seem to be the least protected group in their own country under the current regime.
يا جماعة هو مصري مش ايطالي فعادي يعني ليه عاملين دوشه!— Ahmed Taha ???? (@ahmed_taha25jan) February 9, 2020
احنا اتأكدنا قبل ما تعذبه و نكهربه و نكسر له حاجاته أنه مصري !#FreePatirck
و تظل جملة والدة ريجيني حاضرة و بقوة " قتلوه كما لو كان مصريا " pic.twitter.com/ePP2uXlKZx
Translation: "He's an Egyptian, not an Italian which means this is normal. What is all this fuss about? Prior to torturing and electrifying him, we made sure that he's Egyptian. I'll never forget what Regeni's mother said once: "They killed him as if he was an Egyptian."
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