Rights researcher and graduate student Patrick George Zaki was arrested from the Cairo airport on Friday. He was held incommunicado for 24 hours, during which he was beaten and electrocuted before appearing at the public prosecutor’s office, and faces charges that include spreading false news.
Zaki, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Bologna, was on his way to Egypt to visit family when he was stopped at the Cairo airport early Friday morning. He managed to call his father to tell him he was being arrested, according to lawyer Samuel Thabet.
Thabet told Mada Masr that Zaki was taken to the National Security Agency site within the airport, where he was blindfolded and held for several hours. He was then moved to the NSA site in his hometown of Mansoura, about 120 kilometers from Cairo. There, he was beaten, stripped, and electrocuted on his back and his stomach, according to statements from Zaki to Thabet and other lawyers. He was also verbally abused and threatened with rape.
Zaki’s blindfold was only removed on Saturday morning, after he was taken to the police station in Mansoura, Thabet said. From there he was taken to the public prosecutor’s office, and was questioned with lawyers in attendance later that day. Thabet, who attended the interrogation, said he was questioned on charges of publishing fake news, incitement to protest, calling for the overthrow of the state, managing a social media account that aims to undermine social order and public safety, and incitement to commit violence and terrorist crimes.
Zaki was questioned about printouts from a Facebook page, which he told prosecutors do not belong to him, and denied all other charges, Thabet said.
Zaki’s lawyers requested that the public prosecutor take Zaki’s testimony about being beaten, but the prosecutor said the state security prosecutors who would be handling the case could take his testimony during their questioning, adding that Saturday’s interrogation was just a preliminary questioning. The prosecutor ordered Zaki held on remand for 15 days.
The arrest report, which was prepared by state security prosecutors, says Zaki was arrested from a checkpoint in Mansoura on the basis of an arrest warrant from September 2019. Thabet says lawyers are appealing the arrest report, adding that his arrest from the airport can be proven using airport security video.
Italian politicians called for governmental inquiries into the arrest and mistreatment of the student, who has been in Italy since August 2019. Erasmo Palazotto, the head of the Italian parliamentary inquiry into the murder of Italian student and researcher Giulo Regeni in Egypt in 2015, tweeted “How can we consider Egypt a safe country?” adding that the Italian government must not ignore Zaki’s arrest as it pursues its relations with Egypt.
Lia Quartapelle, a member of the Italian Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted that she would ask the government to inquire about Zaki’s arrest, and La Republica reported that the Italian foreign minister was following the case.
Several researchers, journalists, and activists have been detained from the Cairo airport in recent years.