Egyptian activist walks free after nearly 2 years in jail

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities released a rights activist Wednesday after he spent nearly two years in jail in a case that has drawn significant international attention, a rights group said.

Patrick George Zaki walked free from a police station in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, a day after a court there ordered his release pending trial, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Zaki had worked with the group as a gender rights researcher.

The 29-year-old rights advocate and student at the University of Bologna in Italy was charged with spreading false news about Egypt, both domestically and abroad — charges that stem from a 2019 opinion piece he wrote on discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt.

He was arrested in February 2020 shortly after landing in Cairo on what was supposed to be a short visit home from Italy. His trial has been postponed till Feb. 1.

“Patrick has been just released,” the group said in a Facebook post, attaching a photo of Zaki out in the street, wearing a white prison shirt and hugging his sister.

Zaki’s arrest and trial became front page news in Italy and sparked a wave of student protests there. For many Italians, his detention was reminiscent of the death of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni, who was kidnapped in Cairo, tortured and killed in 2016.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has vowed to continue following Zaki’s case.

Zaki's case has brought international condemnation of the Egyptian government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

Under el-Sissi, Egypt has seen the heaviest crackdown on dissent in decades. Officials have targeted not only Islamist political opponents but also pro-democracy activists, journalists and online critics. Lengthy pretrial detentions have become a common practice to keep the government’s critics behind bars for as long as possible.

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