Rights group: Egyptian court extends activist’s detention

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court extended the detention of an activist and researcher who previously worked for one of the country’s most prominent rights groups, the group said on Monday.

Patrick George Zaki, 28, a human rights advocate and a student at the University of Bologna in Italy, was detained after landing in Cairo on Feb. 7 for a brief trip home. Since his arrest, he has been jailed pending an investigation into accusations of spreading fake news and calling for unauthorized protests.

Zaki worked as a gender rights researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, or EIPR, which provides him legal representation.

A court in Cairo handling terror-related cases renewed Zaki’s detention for 45 more days, the group said. He appeared in court on Sunday, along with about 700 other people arrested in various cases. All but one have had their detention extended, the EIPR said.

Zaki and his lawyer called for his immediate release, arguing that there were “no grounds” for his continued detention.

Following his arrest, Zaki had told his lawyers he was tortured with electric shocks, beaten and blindfolded during interrogations about his activism, according to the EIPR.

However, Egypt’s top prosecutor denied the torture allegations, saying Zaki made no report about being “harmed or violated during his arrest or detention” when he spoke to the public prosecution on Feb. 8, the day after his arrest.

In Italy, where Zaki was studying, the head of the Democratic Party, the government’s junior coalition partner, slammed Monday’s decision by the court in Egypt as “the latest unjust and inhumane decision.”

“You can’t leave a young man in prison because he defends human rights,” Nicola Zingaretti wrote in a Facebook post. “Let no one be mistaken: we will keep the pressure high on all levels on this injustice.”

Ahead of the decision, lawmakers from the lead party in the Italian government, the populist 5-Star Movement, expressed disappointment that Zaki was still jailed and asked Egypt “to immediately release him.”

The decision to extend Zaki’s detention came after authorities last week freed three senior EIPR staff members, including the group’s executive director, Gasser Abdel-Razek. The three were arrested last month and slapped with terrorism-related charges following their meeting with Western diplomats to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt.

After their release, Abdel-Razek, along with EIPR’s criminal justice director Karim Ennarah and administrative director Mohammed Basheer, authorities froze their assets, a measure upheld by a court on Sunday.

Egypt’s latest crackdown against EIPR has raised alarm in many parts of the world, with international rights groups urging the international community, particularly Western governments, to pressure Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s government to ease its clampdown on dissent and rights advocates.

Under el-Sissi, Egypt has seen the heaviest crackdown on dissent in its modern history. Officials have targeted not only Islamist political opponents but also pro-democracy activists, journalists and online critics.

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