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Authorities arbitrarily arrested Patrick George Zaki upon arrival at Cairo Airport from Italy on February 7, 2020.   © Private

(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities on February 7, 2020 detained Patrick George Zaki, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), in a serious escalation of their campaign against human rights activists and groups, Human Rights Watch said today.

A source at the rights organization told Human Rights Watch that the National Security Agency held George incommunicado for roughly 24 hours and subjected him to torture, including with electric shocks. He was held in two unofficial National Security Agency detention sites, in Cairo and al-Mansoura, where interrogators questioned him extensively about his activism and the EIPR, the source said.

“Instead of facilitating the much-needed work of human rights defenders like Patrick George Zaki, security forces detained and allegedly tortured him,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government seems intent on emphasizing that no one is immune from the security services’ brutal hand.”

Zaki works for the EIPR on gender and sexuality rights. Authorities arrested him upon his arrival at Cairo Airport from Italy, where he has been living and studying.

After 24 hours, prosecutors ordered Zaki detained pending an investigation, accusing him of actions including “calling for protests without permission,” “spreading false news,” and inciting violence and terrorism. The EIPR source said that most of the interrogation concerned Zaki’s Facebook posts and that his detention report, according to Zaki’s lawyers who reviewed it, falsely claimed that officers arrested Zaki at his home in al-Mansoura, not at the airport.

The EIPR is one of Egypt’s leading human rights organizations. The organization and several of its current and former staff members, including its founder and former director Hossam Bahgat, have been prosecuted in the year-long investigation in Case 173 of 2011, known as the “foreign funding” case. Egyptian authorities have been using the case to prosecute leading human rights organizations and activists for doing their work and for receiving foreign funds. An investigative judge and a court have ordered preventive travel bans and asset freezes on the defendants that have been in force for almost four years now, but a trial has yet to begin.

Attacks, arrests, and prosecutions of human rights defenders have been escalating in recent months.

Gamal Eid, the director of the independent Arab Network for Human Rights Information, was assaulted twice by armed men, in October and December 2019, in what appeared to be attacks sponsored or carried out by National Security officers and agents.

Ibrahim Ezz el Din, a housing rights researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, has been ordered detained since November by State Security prosecutors. Before he was taken before the prosecution, security officers forcibly disappeared him for 167 days. Lawyers told Human Rights Watch that during Ezz el-Din’s disappearance, officers physically and psychologically tortured him, including with electric shocks, while questioning him about his activism. Prosecutors failed to investigate his disappearance or torture and ordered him detained on charges solely related to his peaceful activism.

“The escalating attacks on human rights defenders, including disappearances, torture, and physical assaults in broad daylight, show that Egypt under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a place where those who defend human rights do so at grave risk to themselves,” Stork said.

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