Egypt President pardons Christian human rights activist

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

(CP) Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has reportedly pardoned a Christian human rights activist and researcher sentenced to three years in prison earlier this week on charges of spreading "false news" about Christians facing challenges with discrimination.

The state-run Al-Ahram newspaper reported that Sisi granted a presidential pardon to Patrick Zaki, who was arrested in 2020 upon his return from studying in Italy and was convicted Tuesday in State Security Court in Mansoura of spreading "false news," "incitement to protest" and "incitement to commit violence and terrorist crimes."

The reported pardon comes after the U.S. State Department and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern about the 33-year-old Zaki's sentencing and called for his release.

Earlier reports claim that Zaki's original charges were that he allegedly engaged in "joining a terrorist organization" and "spreading false information."

Zaki's charges were said to be related to the article he wrote in 2019 titled: "Displacement, Killing and Restriction: A Week's Diaries of Egypt's Copts."

The article was published in July 2019 in the pan-Arab media outlet Daraj, which included a diary-like account of what it is like to be a Coptic Christian minority in Egypt.

Abraham Cooper, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan body responsible for advising the federal government, expressed his disapproval of the prison sentence at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

"Before I go into some of the details, I want to bring to the attention of this committee a development from today in Egypt. ... USCIRF maintains a crucial victims list of those in prison for their beliefs or advocacy on behalf of religious freedom worldwide. Unfortunately, that list has now surpassed 2,000 entries," Cooper announced at the hearing.

"In fact, we just received word this morning that a court in Egypt has cruelly sentenced one of those victims; Patrick George Zaki, to three years in prison for an article he wrote in 2019 about the challenges that many Coptic Christians face in that country," he continued.

"We call, at USCIRF, [for] his immediate release just as we do for all victims of such religious freedom and human rights violations. And I know we're in the right location to first bring this to the attention of the American people."

Zaki is a researcher specializing in gender at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and a former postgraduate student in Italy.

Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), welcomed news of Zaki's pardon in a statement to AFP, saying he "should not have spent one day in jail."

Zaki was arrested by authorities on Feb. 7, 2020, at Cairo International Airport.

According to his lawyer, Samuel Tharwat, National Security Agency (NSA) officers kept Zaki blindfolded and handcuffed as he endured a 17-hour interrogation at the airport and later at an undisclosed NSA location in Mansoura.

According to Amnesty International, Zaki was reportedly questioned about his human rights work and the purpose of his living in Italy. During the interrogation, Zaki was also allegedly beaten on his stomach, stripped and electrocuted by authorities before appearing with prosecutors. He allegedly suffered further verbal abuse and was threatened with sexual assault.

Amnesty International's research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther, spoke out concerning the arrest in February 2020.

"The authorities' arbitrary arrest and torture of Patrick Zaki is yet another example of the state's deep-rooted repression of perceived opponents and human rights' defenders, which reaches more audacious levels with each passing day," Luther said in his 2020 statement.

"We call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Patrick, who is detained solely for his human rights work and opinions he has expressed on social media. They must open an independent investigation into the torture he has suffered and urgently ensure his protection."

Open Doors, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, ranks Egypt as the 35th-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.

© The Christian Post