- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pardoned two prominent human rights activists on Wednesday, the state news agency reported.
- It is common for pardoned prisoners in Egypt to be released soon after the pardon is issued.
- A prominent rights activist stressed that no activist should spend time in jail for advocating for human rights.
Egypt’s president on Wednesday pardoned two leading rights activists, including one from Italy, who were sentenced this week, the country’s state-run news agency reported.
An unspecified number of people pardoned by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday included rights activist Patrick George Zaki, a postgraduate student in Italy who was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday for an opinion piece he wrote in 2019, the MENA news agency said.
Zaki’s case resonated in Italy, where many were reminded after the sentencing this week of the tragic end of Italian student Giulio Regini, who was kidnapped and murdered in Cairo in 2016. Since his arrest in 2020, the Italian government has repeatedly called for his release.
The agency reported that rights lawyer Muhammad al-Bakar, who was arrested in September 2019, was also pardoned. El Baker was sentenced to four years in prison in late 2021 for spreading fake news, misusing social media and joining a terrorist group. Al-Bakr was arrested after he attended the questioning by prosecutors of another jailed activist, Alaa Abdul Fattah.
The report said the two were among the group pardoned on Wednesday but did not say who else was included. Prisoners pardoned in Egypt are usually freed within days.
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Prominent human rights activist Hussam Bhagat wrote on Twitter, “We welcome the news of his pardon and demand the immediate release of the thousands still detained in Egypt on political grounds.”
He added that the two activists “should not have spent a single day in jail for their human rights work.” Behgat is the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which represented Zaki in court.
In Italy, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani welcomed al-Sisi’s decision to pardon Zaki. “Thanks to the government’s foreign policy, we have given decisive support in freeing this young student. Concrete results through work and international reputation,” he tweeted.
After the news of the pardon, there was also a wave of joy from the ranks of Italian opposition lawmakers.
“Victory for Patrick Zaki. Pardon granted,” tweeted Federica Onori, whip of the foreign affairs commission for the populist 5-Star Movement. “We never stopped fighting. We never stopped believing. We look forward to your return home to Italy soon.”
When Zaki was arrested in 2020, 5-Star led the government and Maloney’s far-right party was in opposition.
Speaking to Italian state TV in a square outside Rome’s ancient Pantheon, Ricardo Nori, an Amnesty International official in Italy, expressed satisfaction that “the case of the tomb (Zaki) has been resolved, but it does not resolve the issue of human rights in Egypt.”
Zaki, who is Christian, was arrested in February 2020 shortly after arriving in Cairo for a short trip from Italy where he was studying at the University of Bologna. He was released in December 2021 after spending 22 months in pre-trial detention but had to remain in Egypt and was not allowed to travel abroad while the trial was pending.
He received his master’s degree with distinction earlier this month and was unable to travel to Italy because he was barred from travel. He defended his thesis through video conference.
An Egyptian court this week sentenced him personally to three years in prison for “spreading false news” related to an article he wrote about alleged discrimination against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.
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Amnesty International immediately condemned the Egyptian authorities and said it was “appalling” that Zaki was dragged from the courtroom to prison on Tuesday.
Egypt has pardoned dozens of prisoners in the past several months, after its human rights record came under international scrutiny when it hosted the UN climate change summit in November.
For years, the government has silenced dissent and cracked down on independent organizations with arrests, detentions, prison sentences and other sanctions. Rights groups estimate that thousands of political prisoners remain in detention in Egypt, many without trial.