A court in Egypt has rejected a researcher’s appeal to be released from detention, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), in a case that has sparked alarm among human rights groups.
Patrick George Zaki, who has been on leave from EIPR since last August to pursue studies in Italy, was arrested on February 7 after he landed in Cairo’s international airport for a visit to see his family.
The appeals court in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura on Saturday ruled that the 27-year-old will remain in detention pending an investigation into allegations of spreading fake news and calling for unauthorised protests.
EIPR, a Cairo-based human rights group, said the investigation includes allegations of managing a social media account that aims to undermine the social order and public safety, as well as incitement to commit violence and “terrorist” crimes.
It said on Saturday Zaki will continue to be detained on remand until February 22, when he is set to stand before a prosecutor again.
Following the court’s decision, Riccardo Noury, a spokesman for Amnesty International Italy, said on Twitter that the campaign for Zaki’s release had now become “even stronger”, adding that the next hearing would be “more crucial”.
Zaki’s lawyers have said he was beaten, subjected to electric shocks, threatened and questioned about his work and activism before he appeared at a public prosecutor’s office in his hometown of Mansoura on Saturday, a day after his detention in the Egyptian capital.
According to EIPR, Zaki appeared before the Mansoura II prosecution office where he was presented with a police report that falsely stated that he was arrested at a checkpoint in Mansoura, some 120km (74.6 miles) north of Cairo.
Egypt’s interior ministry said on Sunday Zaki had been ordered to serve a 15-day pretrial detention, setting off alarms among rights activists who have warned of Egyptian prosecutors’ tendency to renew the 15-day investigation period indefinitely.
Rights activists say Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on freedoms – including banning all unauthorised demonstrations – since first taking power in 2013 and then winning elections in 2014.
Recent laws in Egypt have expanded the definition of “terrorism” to include all political dissent, granting prosecutors broad power to keep people detained for months and even years without ever filing charges or presenting evidence.
“EIPR demands the immediate release of Patrick George Zaki without pressing charges, and calls for an investigation into his torture and ill-treatment,” the group said on Saturday.
Zaki’s arrest has rattled Italy, where the researcher is pursuing a Master’s degree in gender and women’s studies at the University of Bologna, amid fears of a repeat of the case of murdered Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni.
Regeni’s body was found on a roadside on the outskirts of Cairo in 2016 showing extensive signs of torture.
After four years of investigation, no one has been arrested or charged over the killing of the 28-year-old, despite months of presumed cooperation between Egyptian and Italian prosecutors. Italy is still pressing Egypt to speed up the investigation.
“Unacceptable. Inhumane,” Erasmo Palazzotto, president of the Italian parliamentary inquiry into Regeni’s death, wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
“We have the duty to keep the spotlight pointed on one country, Egypt, which cannot afford any more to play with impunity with people’s life.”