Egyptian researcher, lawyer leave prison after pardons: families

Egypt Patrick Zaki was jailed over an article on discrimination against Egypt's Coptic Christian minority.  By - (Patrick Libero Facebook page/AFP)
Patrick Zaki was jailed over an article on discrimination against Egypt's Coptic Christian minority. By - ("Patrick Libero" Facebook page/AFP)

Egyptian researcher Patrick Zaki and lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer walked out of prison Thursday, relatives said, a day after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pardoned them in the wake of an international outcry.

Zaki was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday for "spreading false news", prompting some participants to walk out of a so-called national dialogue aimed at giving the opposition in Egypt a voice.

"Patrick is free," his sister Marise George said Thursday on Facebook alongside an image of the 32-year-old outside the Mansoura prison, some 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of the capital Cairo.

He was jailed over a 2019 article recounting the discrimination that he and other members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority say they have suffered.

Sisi on Wednesday granted presidential pardons to Zaki and five others -- three men and two women, according to the decree published in the official gazette.

They include Baqer who was also released on Thursday, his wife Neamatallah Hisham said, after his arrest in 2019 while he was attending an interrogation of his client Alaa Abdel Fattah, Egypt's best known political prisoner.

Baqer is "at home", Hisham wrote on Facebook as the lawyer marked his 43rd birthday on Thursday.

His own lawyer Ahmed Ragheb -- who on Tuesday walked out of the national dialogue in protest at Zaki's sentencing -- confirmed Baqer's release.

Baqer had been sentenced to four years in prison for "broadcasting false news".

Zaki was studying at Bologna University in Italy until his arrest in 2020 while on a visit to Egypt.

Upon his release Thursday, Zaki told Italian media: "I'm really relieved. I was afraid I'd have to spend another year and two months in prison.

"Now I hope to be able to return to Italy soon... I want to go back to Bologna to be with my colleagues," said Zaki, adding that he was "going to Cairo first".

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

Thousands of people in Italy signed petitions calling for Zaki's release, and the country's senate voted in 2021 in favour of granting him Italian citizenship.

Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who speaks regularly with Sisi, in a video message on Wednesday welcomed the news that Zaki was to be freed, and said "he will be back tomorrow in Italy".