Despite Coronavirus Fears, Egypt Refuses to Release Coptic Activists

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by Shady Negm

On March 21, Egyptian authorities released 15 political opposition figures after there were calls to free thousands of prisoners as a preemptive measure to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus among inmates. However, authorities have refused to release a Coptic Christian researcher who was detained on vague charges, ignoring his family’s plea as he suffers from asthma.

Patrick George Zaki, a 28-year-old master’s student and researcher with prominent human rights organization Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) was arrested at Cairo airport on February 7 after arriving for a family visit from Italy, where he is currently studying at the University of Bologna.

Zaki faces charges of spreading false news and disturbing security and social peace through his Facebook account, according to a statement from the general prosecutor’s office in February. The prosecution said Zaki was previously being investigated before an arrest warrant was issued in September 2019 and a search of his home was ordered while he was abroad.

Last Friday, Zaki’s family made a second plea to release him over fears about his health amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last time his family visited him was on the 9th of March,” his lawyer Huda Nasrallah told The Tablet. “Prison visits were suspended on the 10th of March so we haven’t heard from him since.”

Nasrallah told The Tablet she gave the prosecutors medical reports regarding Zaki’s health: “The prosecutor promised to study the situation and will appoint a medical committee to examine him.”

However, nothing has happened over the month since then, and his family is not allowed to visit or talk to him.

“Words fail us to express how distressed and worried we are about Patrick’s health during this pandemic,” his family said in a statement published on Facebook on April 10. “We are more alarmed by the fact that Patrick is asthmatic and all that we are asking for in these uncertain times is hear his voice just to make sure he is well and safe!”

“He faces groundless charges, and a fabricated police report,” his family said.

According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Zaki was tortured and interrogated during police detention after he was arrested. His family said that he also was blindfolded, beaten, threatened, and tortured before he appeared at the prosecution office on Feb 8. However, the general prosecution has denied those allegations saying that no apparent injuries were visible on his body.

Ramy Kamel, who has been detained since last year, is another Coptic Christian activist still in custody. On November 23, National Security Agency officers stormed his home, confiscating his mobile phone, laptop, and other belongings.

The State Security Prosecution accused him of joining a terrorist group and disturbing the public peace through the misuse of social media and spreading false news. Kamel is a human rights activist and prominent member of Maspero Youth Union, advocating for full rights for the Coptic Christian community. Since 2011, he had been working with lawyers, activists, and religious leaders to track and document sectarian incidents in Upper Egypt.

“These accusations are spurious,” a lawyer of the legal defense team of Kamel’s case told The Tablet on condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation. “We don’t know what is the terrorist group that they refer to. What’s its activity? What are its objectives? Who are its members? It’s all unrealistic accusations.”

Last December, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned Egypt’s arrest of Kamel and called on the Egyptian government to release him and dismiss the charges against him.

“Egypt cannot pledge improved rights and freedoms for Copts and other non-Muslim communities, while at the same time bringing false charges against its own citizens who are advocating for those same reforms,” USCIRF Vice Chair Nadine Maenza said in a statement.

One thought on “Despite Coronavirus Fears, Egypt Refuses to Release Coptic Activists

  1. This is beyond sicking. Its disgusting, This is Islam the so called religion of peace, It spreads nothing but hatred and murder and persecutes Christians. How can Kamel join a terrorist group??????????? Are you stupid? who is he gonna join the Muslim brotherhood, ISIS …. are you stupid his christian not Muslim.