Holly Aldridge and Busola Ajaya
Scholars at Risk is an international organisation which runs through a network of universities with the aim of protecting academic freedom. SAR has been running for the last 20 years and continues to promote freedom of expression in areas of the world where it is under threat.
A group of five students from the University of Nottingham are working with SAR to help promote academic freedom and advocate for individuals who have been unlawfully arrested. Over the next year, they will be running various events aimed at raising awareness of SAR’s work, and the two cases they have chosen to represent.
One of the cases they are advocating for is that of Patrick George Zaki. Zaki is an Egyptian postgraduate student at the University of Bologna in Italy. He is currently imprisoned in Egypt as a result of his human rights research.
Zaki is undertaking an Erasmus Mundus Masters Degree in Women and Gender Studies in Bologna, and has previously conducted research and advocacy on gender issues and human rights for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He was arrested by the Egyptian authorities upon his return to the country in February 2020 and has been imprisoned ever since.
At least 4000 individuals have been arrested in relation to their alleged engagement with these protests
Amnesty International have reported that Egyptian National Security Agency (NSA) officers ‘beat him on his stomach and back and tortured him with electric shocks on his upper body during interrogation’.
Zaki’s arrest came as a result of the post-September 2019 protest crackdown in Egypt. In September 2019 there were protests across Egypt calling on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to resign which led to the arrests of peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights lawyers and activists.
Human rights lawyers have asserted that at least 4000 individuals have been arrested in relation to their alleged engagement with these protests, making this the biggest protest-related investigation in Egypt’s history.
Zaki has been accused of spreading false news and statements of social media as a means of promoting protest against the government. It is believed that posts from his social media accounts have been used by the authorities to corroborate their accusations.
Although the judiciary have renewed a fifteen-day detention several times, most recently in November, they have still not publicly disclosed charges or evidence against him. Zaki’s detention has previously been renewed without himself or his lawyer being informed or present.
Egypt has ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This speaks to the state’s legal responsibility to comply with the provisions set out in these treaties, which ensure individual rights and freedoms are given the greatest protection.
Egypt’s state of emergency, since April 2017, raises some questions about derogation from its obligations under the treaties, however some human rights are absolute and may never be derogated from.
Zaki is isolated in an environment which could have catastrophic consequences on his health should he contract COVID-19
Particularly relevant to Zaki’s case, freedom of thought, conscience and religion under ICCPR Article 18 cannot be derogated from and the prohibitions of torture and acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under CAT Arts. 2 and 16 and ICCPR Art. 4 are also absolute and thus non-derogable.
Zaki is a sufferer of asthma, and so is at high-risk if infected with COVID-19. Amnesty’s report also comments upon how prisons in Egypt are ‘overcrowded, unhygienic and unsanitary’, which makes the threat to Zaki’s health extremely high in the current pandemic.
Egyptian authorities are also citing COVID-19 as reasoning for denying prisoners the right to contact their family and lawyers. Therefore, Zaki is isolated in an environment which could have catastrophic consequences on his health should he contract COVID-19.
The University of Bologna have established a crisis group which works with government authorities, including the Italian Embassy in Cairo, in an attempt to mobilise political support and aid on Zaki’s case.
SAR is calling for the immediate release of Zaki and an investigation into the torture allegations against the authorities. It is important for as many individuals as possible to get involved with his case through signing petitions and open letters to mobilise a support base that can put pressure on the Egyptian government.
Please follow the University of Nottingham SAR pages on social media:
Facebook: Notts Scholars at Risk
Holly Aldridge and Busola Ajaya
Featured image courtesy of Charles DeLoye on Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
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