The 30-year-old, who was on leave from the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights (EIPR) to pursue studies in Italy at the time of his arrest in February 2020, appeared before a special security court in the State of emergency in the city of Nile Delta. Mansourah Tuesday.
Detained in pre-trial detention for 19 months, Zaki was charged Monday with “spreading false news inside and outside the country”, carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
In the indictment, the Egyptian Supreme State Security Prosecutor’s Office (SSSP) cited as grounds for arrest an article, written by the researcher two years ago, in which he personally recounted his ordeal in as a Copt in Egypt.
“It’s really nasty to think that someone could go to jail for up to five years for writing an article,” Hussein Baoumi, Egypt and Libya researcher at Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera.
Baoumi said that while these courts should only try the most serious terrorist crimes, “the Egyptian authorities have used all the anti-terrorism rhetoric to imprison and punish peaceful opponents and critics.”
The court was adjourned until September 28. It is not yet clear how long it will take the special court, where decisions cannot be appealed, to reach a verdict.
Representatives of the embassies of Italy, Germany, Canada and a lawyer from the European Union were present at the hearing. Zaki was studying for a Masters in Gender and Women Studies at the University of Bologna in Italy when he was arrested on February 7, 2020, after landing in Cairo for what was supposed to be a brief home visit.
Zaki’s arrest rocked Italy, where the case drew a parallel with the disappearance of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni, whose mutilated body was found on the outskirts of Cairo on February 3, 2016. The Italian branch of Amnesty International has spearheaded efforts to pressure the Interior Ministry to grant Zaki Italian citizenship. The mayors of some municipalities have autonomously granted the researcher honorary citizenship.
Zaki’s lawyers said last year that the researcher was tortured and threatened during questioning, an allegation dismissed by Egypt’s top prosecutor.
The Egyptian national security agency maintains that Zaki is responsible for disseminating what she described as “incendiary material against state institutions and figures”.
The indictment came days after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi launched the National Human Rights Strategy 2021-2026 on Saturday.
According to a presidential statement, the strategy aims to strengthen respect for “all civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights”, including those of religious minorities.
“I don’t think Egypt needs more documents on the strategy to adopt for human rights, what is lacking is the political will,” Amr Magdi, researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. .
Magdi said Egypt’s strategy contrasted sharply with the latest developments on the ground.
Members of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, who documented and denounced the rights violations through their social media accounts, appeared in an emergency court on Saturday.
And on Monday, Egyptian political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who has been in pre-trial detention for almost two years, informed his lawyer that he was considering suicide because of the dire conditions of his detention.
“We see no indication that the Egyptian government is willing to ease its national crackdown or tackle any of the systematic abuses,” Magdi said.
The European Parliament passed a resolution in December urging member states to consider imposing targeted restrictions on Egypt, in response to its “continued and growing crackdown on fundamental rights and, among other things, the persecution of human rights defenders. humans ”.
The resolution also appeared to berate European Union states for failing to prioritize human rights over economic interests, urging members of the bloc to halt all exports of military equipment.
Egypt rejected the allegations, accusing the European Parliament of pursuing “politicized goals and an unbalanced policy”.