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Egypt's Sisi pardons researcher a day after jailing sparked outcry

By AFP
Egypt Egyptian researcher Patrick Zaki previously spent 22 months in pre-trial detention until December 2021.  By Mohamed EL-RAAI (AFP)
WED, 19 JUL 2023 LISTEN
Egyptian researcher Patrick Zaki previously spent 22 months in pre-trial detention until December 2021. By Mohamed EL-RAAI (AFP)

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi granted a pardon Wednesday to researcher Patrick Zaki, state media said, a day after Zaki's three-year jail term sparked an outcry from local rights groups and Western governments.

His sentence on Tuesday for "spreading false news" had prompted some participants to walk out of a government dialogue aimed at giving the opposition a voice.

Zaki, 32, was jailed over an article recounting the discrimination he and other members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority say they have suffered.

The government-run al-Ahram newspaper said Sisi also granted a presidential pardon to Mohamed al-Baqer, the lawyer for Alaa Abdel Fattah, Egypt's best known political prisoner.

Word of the pardon came after the US State Department had said on Twitter it was "concerned" by Zaki's sentence and urged the "immediate release of him and others unjustly detained".

In Italy, where Zaki was studying until he was arrested in 2020 on a visit to Egypt, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Tuesday said Rome's "commitment to a positive resolution of the Patrick Zaki case has never ceased".

Meloni added: "We still have faith".

Cairo has come under frequent criticism for its human rights record, with tens of thousands of political prisoners -- including journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and artists -- behind bars, according to rights groups.

The government launched a "national dialogue" this year, hoping to bring in an opposition that has been decimated throughout a decade of repression since Sisi deposed his predecessor, the late Mohamed Morsi, after popular protests.

Scepticism

The dialogue has been met with scepticism by human rights defenders, who worry the state is burnishing its image while enacting the same draconian policies.

Since April of last year, authorities have released 1,000 political prisoners amid much fanfare, but detained almost 3,000 more, Egyptian rights monitors said.

More than 40 Egyptian and international organisations -- including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy -- condemned Zaki's sentence, which they said followed "a trial rife with due process violations".

Rights defenders have said Zaki was beaten and electrocuted during his detention.

National dialogue coordinator Diaa Rashwan -- who also runs the State Information Service -- said Tuesday the dialogue's board of trustees had appealed to Sisi for Zaki's "immediate release".

Washington has repeatedly criticised Cairo's human rights record, accusing authorities of the use of torture, "life-threatening prison conditions" and curbs on free speech.

Egypt is a key ally of the United States and one of its top recipients of military aid.

Though voices within the US Congress had called for broader aid cuts to Egypt over its rights record, the administration of President Joe Biden withheld only $130 million in 2021.

In January, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Sisi to "free all political prisoners" while welcoming the "important strides" the country had made.

Zaki previously spent 22 months in pre-trial detention until December 2021.

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