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"Don't worry," says jailed Egypt rights researcher as he is driven from court

·2-min read
Rome town hall displays banner of jailed Egyptian student Patrick Zaki

By Nadeen Ebrahim

MANSOURA, Egypt (Reuters) -A jailed Egyptian human rights researcher told supporters on Tuesday not to worry, as he was driven away from a courtroom where he is standing trial in a "fake news" case that has resonated in Italy where he was based.

Patrick Zaki, 30, a graduate student at the University of Bologna, has been held for 19 months since being arrested on a trip home from Italy and accused of spreading false information, over an article he wrote about the plight of Egypt's Christians.

His handcuffs were removed in a courtroom cage at the start of his appearance at Tuesday's hearing in his hometown of Mansoura, about 70 miles (113km) north of Cairo. The judge granted an adjournment to Dec. 7 to allow the defence to review case files.

As he was later driven away in a police vehicle to Cairo's Tora prison, Zaki waved through the barred window at friends and supporters and called out: "Don't worry about me. I'll get out, I'll get out."

The case has taken on political significance in Italy https://www.reuters.com/article/italy-egypt-idAFL8N2M752Z, which was already shocked by the 2016 killing in Egypt of an Italian graduate student, Giulio Regeni. An Italian court says senior Egyptian officials should stand trial in the Regeni case; Egyptian police and officials deny involvement.

Zaki was ordered earlier this month to stand a fast-track trial at a state security court. Tuesday's appearance followed a Sept. 14 hearing at which he pleaded not guilty and asked to be freed.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a leading independent rights group where Zaki also worked as a researcher, said he could face a sentence of up to five years if convicted of spreading false news in Egypt and abroad.

"We are approaching two years, without there being a trial, without there being real investigations. Even when the trial starts, it is delayed for two months and a half, and he remains in detention," said EIPR's Lobna Darwish.

Zaki's indictment is based on an article from 2019 for the website Daraj, in which he chronicled a week tracking the impact of events in Egypt on its Coptic Christian minority, EIPR said.

EIPR says Zaki was beaten, subjected to electric shocks and threatened following his arrest. Egyptian authorities have not commented on the claims, but they routinely deny allegations of ill treatment by the security forces and in places of detention.

Since 2013, when then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, there has been a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent in Egypt. Rights groups say tens of thousands of people have been jailed.

Sisi, president since 2014, says security and stability are paramount and denies there are political prisoners in Egypt.

(Writing by Aidan LewisEditing by Peter Graff)

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