Letter protesting the ongoing detention of Patrick George Zaki

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: +20-2-390-1998 

Chancellor Hamada El-Sawy
Office of the Public Prosecutor
Fax: +20-2-25774716

Prime Solicitor-General Khaled Diauddin
Supreme State Security Prosecution in the Arab Republic of Egypt
Fax: +20-2-26381956


Dear President al-Sisi, and Members of the Supreme State Security Prosecution,  

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our concern regarding the ongoing detention of Patrick George Zaki, a student at the University of Bologna, Italy, who was arrested on 7 February 2020 upon his arrival in Egypt for a family visit. Held in pre-trial detention ever since, Zaki has been denied due process. Moreover, the Egyptian authorities have produced no credible evidence to justify his detention. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has over 2,800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Patrick Zaki, a graduate student in Italy and human rights researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), was awarded an EU-funded Erasmus scholarship to enroll in the prestigious international GEMMA Masters program in Gender Studies at the University of Bologna. When he was arrested just over one year ago, Egyptian National Security Agency agents interrogated him at the airport, where he was blindfolded and handcuffed for 17 hours, and subsequently at an undisclosed location in Mansoura where he was threatened, beaten, and tortured with electric shocks. The interrogations focused on his human rights work and his time in Italy. The next day, Mr. Zaki appeared before the public prosecutor in Mansoura, and was charged with spreading false news and statements to disturb the peace, and inciting protest without permission from relevant authorities with the goal of undermining state institutions, overthrowing the Egyptian government and instigating terrorism. In a practice that has now become common in such cases, the Egyptian authorities have continued to renew his detention anywhere from fifteen to forty-five days without due process. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern over the repeated renewals of activists’ detentions. On 2 February 2021, Zaki’s detention in the notorious Tora Prison, where he has been held since March 2020, was again renewed for 45 days. It is important to note that Patrick Zaki suffers from asthma; hence, he is at considerable risk of contracting the Covid-19 virus and becoming seriously ill.

According to the EIPR, Zaki’s lawyers have consistently asked the Public Prosecution to disclose the reasons for the repeated renewals of his detention—which on 7 February 2021 passed the one-year mark-- in the absence of any suggestion of an impending trial. According to Article 136 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Zaki and his lawyers have the right to this information. Nevertheless, at his most recent hearing, on 2 February 2021, the request was again denied, and the Public Prosecutor simply restated that the imprisonment was justified. Given these circumstances, we have strong reason to believe that Zaki has been held without trial for more than one year as punishment for his human rights work.

Patrick Zaki’s continued detention seems to follow a recent pattern whereby the Egyptian authorities treat pre-trial detention – which can last up to two years – as a punishment for researchers, intellectuals, writers and activists. While Article 54 of the Egyptian Constitution protects personal freedom and guarantees that any limitations of this freedom be “restricted by a causal judicial warrant necessitated by an investigation,” the Article makes the legislature responsible for regulating preventive (pre-trial) detention. There is, however, a contradiction between Article 143 in Criminal Procedural Law, which stipulates that pre-trial detention should not exceed two years, and Article 380, which puts no limit on pre-trial detention. It thus seems that state security officers and prosecutors are exploiting the existing contradiction between these two articles so as to extend pre-trial detentions to two years or even more.

We are concerned that the detention and mistreatment of Patrick George Zaki appear to be part of a persistent crackdown on academic freedom and on freedom of speech in Egypt more generally. In this regard, the Egyptian authorities have violated Article 65 of the Egyptian Constitution, which states that “Freedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed. All individuals have the right to express their opinion through speech, writing, imagery, or any other means of expression and publication.” We therefore urge you to release Patrick Zaki without further delay, drop any charges against him, and allow him to continue his studies and important work. We call on you, as well, to review the penal code and endorse the reform of counterterrorism and cybercrime laws that can be easily abused to impose unconstitutional restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, access to information, and research in Egypt. 

We look forward to your response.


Dina Rizk Khoury
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

Laurie Brand
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California

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