CAIRO (AP) — Police transferred an Egyptian activist who was arrested upon arrival at the Cairo airport from Italy to a “less favorable” detention facility Thursday, a local rights group said, just as his parents showed up for visiting hours.
Officials detained Patrick George Zaki, 28, a human rights advocate and student at the University of Bologna in Italy, after he landed in Cairo for a brief trip home.
When Zaki’s parents arrived at the police station to catch a first glimpse of their son, police directed them to another, more crowded facility a short drive away. By the time they found Zaki, less than a minute remained of visiting hours, his lawyer said.
Upon Zaki’s dawn arrival at Cairo’s international airport Friday, state security held him incommunicado for almost 30 hours, according to The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The group once employed Zaki as a gender rights researcher and now represents him.
Zaki has told his lawyers that while in custody he has been blindfolded, beaten and tortured with electric shocks while interrogated about his activism. There was no immediate response from Egypt’s Interior Ministry about the allegations.
A day a fter arriving in Egypt, Zaki popped up in a prosecutor’s office in his home city of Mansoura, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Cairo, facing accusations of spreading fake news and calling for unauthorized protests. The Interior Ministry said prosecutors ordered Zaki serve a 15-day pretrial detention, setting off alarms among rights activists who have warned of Egyptian prosecutors’ tendency to renew the period without limit.
Recent laws in Egypt have expanded the definition of terrorism to include all political dissent, granting prosecutors broad power to keep people detained for months and even years without ever filing charges or presenting evidence.
Egypt outlawed all unauthorized protests in 2013, months after President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, then defense minister, led the military’s ouster of the country’s first democratically elected but divisive president, M ohamed Morsi.
The move against Zaki is the latest in el-Sissi’s unprecedented crackdown on opposition. The government has arrested thousands —both secular-leaning activists and Islamists — and rolled back freedoms won after the 2011 uprising.
The case has deeply rattled Italy, where Zaki is pursuing a master’s in Gender and Women’s Studies, dredging up painful memories of the disappearance of 28-year-old Italian researcher Giulio Regeni.
Regeni’s battered body was found on a roadside on the outskirts of Cairo in 2016. Italy’s public prosecutor has opened an investigation into several Egyptian police and secret service members in connection with Regeni’s torture and murder.
His death remains a source of simmering tension between the countries. Outrage over Zaki’s detention has spread online under #FreePatrick, and spilled into Bologna’s streets, where hundreds took part in rallies this week to call for his release.
European Parliament President David Sassoli condemned Zaki’s detention on Wednesday, urging Egypt to set him free.
A state appeals court will consider the legality of Zaki’s detention on Saturday, according to EIPR.
“We don’t even know when or how this nightmare will end,” his family said in a statement.