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Egypt arrests activist on arrival from Italy on charges of 'incitement to overthrow the state'

Zaky is a researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights [Twitter]

Date of publication: 9 February, 2020

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Researcher Patrick Zaky is the latest activist to be swept up in Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's crackdown on dissent.
An Egyptian researcher and activist was arrested on arrival from Italy and charged with "harming national security" and "broadcasting false news", lawyers and his employer confirmed on Saturday.

Patrick Zaky, who is a graduate student at Bologna University, was detained at Cairo airport late on Friday as he arrived to visit his family.

He was held on a warrant issued in September last year after he left to pursue his studies, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a prominent rights organisation where he is a researcher.

The NGO said he was questioned about his research and activism.

Zaky appeared before the public prosecutor on Saturday in his hometown of Mansoura, 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of Cairo in the Delta region, security and judicial sources said.

He faces charges of "incitement to protest without a permit", "inciting to overthrow the state", "running a social media account intent on... harming national security" and "broadcasting false news, as well as "promoting terrorist acts", the sources told AFP.

He will be held in custody for 15 days for further questioning.

Lawyers from two other rights groups in Egypt confirmed the list of charges.

EIPR said Zaky had been beaten and electrocuted by security forces while in custody overnight, claims AFP could not verify.

Read more: Saviour or dictator: Copts in Sisi's Egypt trapped by a strongman's balancing act

The group called for his immediate release.

Riccardo Noury, Amnesty International's spokesperson in Italy, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the researcher is "at risk of prolonged detention and torture".

Zaky is one of a string of human rights defenders to be arrested in recent months, many of whom have been subject to repeated 15-day detention orders.

Since October last year six EIPR staff "have been temporarily detained and questioned" in operations apparently targeting "individuals perceived to be politically active in any way", the NGO said.

Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power from elected president Mohamed Morsi in a 2013 military coup, an ongoing crackdown against regime critics has targeted prominent dissidents, academics, activists, journalists and lawyers.

A rare bought of anti-regime protests in September last year saw the swift arrest of thousands of people, most of whom have since been released. Several prominent lawyers, activists and academics remain in prison.

On Friday, authorities released a prominent pro-democracy activist after more than four years in prison.

Ramy Sayed had coordinated protests for the April 6 youth movement, a group that helped catalyze the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt that toppled autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.

In October 2015, Sayed was convicted of taking part in an unauthorised demonstration, as well as related charges such as rioting and disturbing the peace.

A criminal court in Cairo sentenced him to 10 years in prison on "empty charges", lawyer May Hamed said.

Sayed was pardoned in accordance with a customary prisoner release to mark Police Day, a fraught occassion that coincides with the anniversary of Egypt's 2011 pro-democracy revolution.

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