Silencing Egyptian activists in years-long legal battles – DW – 11/30/2022

Silencing Egyptian activists in years-long legal battles – DW – 11/30/2022

When Patrick Zaki climbed into his car to drive 130 kilometers (81 miles) from Cairo to the court in Mansoura on Tuesday morning, the political activist described feeling overwhelmed ahead of the eighth hearing against him.

“Every time another hearing gets closer, it feels like he’s getting that much closer and replaying that ordeal,” the 31-year-old human rights activist wrote in Arabic on his Facebook page.

With the ordeal, the Coptic Christian recalls the 22 months he spent in pre-trial detention for spreading “false news” after publishing an article about the oppression of Egyptian Coptic Christians on Facebook. Staircase online platform in 2019.

Similar to the previous seven hearings, the judge asked him again on Tuesday if he had participated in spreading false news Egypt And abroad. “As before, I refused,” Zaki told DW in a phone interview after the trial.

The prosecutor was of a different opinion. “He said that there is no distinction between the Christian minorityZaki said, “We are equal in rights, and he ended his argument by asking the judge to give me the maximum penalty without mercy.”

If convicted, Zaki will face up to five years in prison.

But before Zaki could mount his legal defence, the hearing was adjourned for three months to February 2023 – just as in the past seven cases.

Zaki prolonged trial It is not unique to Egypt. Political observers and human rights organizations have recognized a pattern behind increasing number of the lengthy trials in the country. It appears to be a new strategy to suppress dissent.

He was released, but not for free

“My freedom package has been renewed for another quarter, like a phone plan,” Zaki said.

Only, he does not feel free. “I can’t finish my degree in Italy because of the travel ban imposed on me, and I can’t sign a work contract because I never know what will happen in three months,” he said.

Instead, he was working as a freelancer for the human rights organization, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “But I only posted two clips, because my legal team is constantly concerned that I might anger the prosecution even more,” he said.

Meanwhile, his university in Bologna and human rights organizations support him with campaigns.

“Patrick George Zaki is a prisoner of conscience who must be released unconditionally as he is being prosecuted simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression,” Suleiman Benghazi, regional campaigner at Amnesty International, told DW.

In turn, Amnesty International has been calling on the Egyptian authorities to drop the charges against Zaki, lift the travel ban, and allow him to return to Italy to pursue his studies.

DW asked the Public Prosecution office in Mansoura for a statement, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

The 27th Climate Conference was a magnet for human rights activists, including Sanaa Seif (left), sister of the hunger-striking dissident Alaa Abdel-Fattah.Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

popular strategy

The fact that this trial is politicized [against Zaki] Its persistence also serves as a message to everyone who dares to speak out: His life could be inflicted with years in prison, travel bans and politicized prosecutions, said Amr Magdy, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

This view is echoed by Timothy Caldas, fellow for politics at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. For him, outstanding issues are clearly strategic decisions.

“Keeping those accused of political crimes in limbo is part of the government’s strategy to reduce external pressure on Egypt on political issues while at the same time preventing them from being arrested. [the accused parties] that they are free to go on with their lives.”

A similar example is the case of investigative journalist and director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hossam Bahgat. Human Rights Organization employees were arrested after briefing a group of Western ambassadors in the fall of 2020.

“They were eventually released with charges pending, after enormous pressure from Western capitals,” Caldas said, adding, “They were not free in 2020 and they are still not free today.”

They still face charges, are banned from travel, and have their assets frozen.

“Their release from prison allowed the Egyptian authorities to end international pressure on the case while leaving open the threat of re-arresting human rights defenders who wish to intimidate and silence them,” Keldas explained.

People embrace as climate activists protest against climate justice and human rights
The twenty-seventh Conference of the Parties (COP27) put the spotlight on Egypt, where protesters protested human rights and climate issues. Photo: Mohamed Abdel-Ghany/Reuters/Reuters

After COP27, we go back to funneling as usual

Egypt’s poor human rights record The huge number of political prisoners – as many as 65,000 – was a recent focus during the United Nations climate conference, COP27, which took place in Egypt earlier in November.

above all, raised criticism About Egypt’s inaction in light of the increasing hunger strike by prisoners Alaa Abdel-FattahWho stopped drinking water during the conference as well as during Spying programs The official COP27 app.

“COP 27 has highlighted Egypt, exposing the country’s ongoing human rights crisis, including mass arbitrary arrests, as well as the crackdown on peaceful protests, civic space, and human rights defenders through criminal investigations, asset freezes, and travel bans,” Benghazi said. Amnesty International.

However, despite the criticism, nothing seems to have changed in the aftermath of COP27. “The government’s repression continues,” Caldas said.

Just last week, on the same day that the Egyptian president’s pardon committee released 30 people political prisonersHuman rights lawyers report that the State Security Prosecution has indicted 40 new political prisoners, Caldas told DW.

“The existence of the rule of law in Egypt is an indefensible illusion.”

Despite all this, Patrick Zaki did not lose hope. “I want this case to end so I can move on with my life,” he said.

When he thinks of all the things he wants to do in the future, he smiles. “Above all, I want to marry my girlfriend. She’s been waiting for a long time.”

Human rights violations in Egypt cast a shadow over the COP27 conference

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Edited by: Sonja Dehn

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