US urges Egypt to release jailed rights researcher

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The United States called on Egypt Wednesday to release rights researcher Patrick Zaki, a day after he was sentenced to three years’ prison for “spreading false news”.

“Concerned by 3-year sentence of Egyptian human rights defender Patrick Zaki,” the US State Department said on Twitter, urging the “immediate release of him and others unjustly detained”.

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

He had previously spent 22 months in pre-trial detention, and was again taken into custody Tuesday after the court ruling in Mansoura, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Cairo.

The drawn-out case has triggered international condemnation, particularly in Italy where Zaki was studying when he was arrested in 2020 on a visit to Egypt.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said Tuesday Rome’s “commitment to a positive resolution of the Patrick Zaki case has never ceased,” adding that “we still have faith”.

Over 40 Egyptian and international organizations — including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy — have condemned the sentence, which they said followed “a trial rife with due process violations”.

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

The sentence has pushed three human rights activists to walk out of the government’s “national dialogue” which aims to involve Egypt’s decimated opposition but has been met with heavy skepticism.

National dialogue coordinator Diaa Rashwan — who also runs the State Information Service — said Tuesday the dialogue’s board of trustees had appealed to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for Zaki’s “immediate release”.

Washington has repeatedly criticized 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” — of which rights groups estimate Egypt holds tens of thousands — while welcoming the “important strides” the country had made.

©️ Agence France-Presse

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