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Italy's senate votes to give citizenship to jailed Egyptian activist Patrick Zaki

Zaki is a human rights advocate who has campaigned for the truth about the 2016 Cairo murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni
Egyptian authorities arrested Zaki on 7 February 2020 upon his return from Italy, where he had been living and studying (Twitter)

The Italian senate on Wednesday voted to approve a proposal by two lawmakers for the exceptional granting of Italian citizenship to Egyptian activist Patrick George Zaki.

Egyptian authorities arrested Zaki on 7 February last year upon his return from Italy, where he had been living and studying. 

Security forces allegedly held him incommunicado for 24 hours and tortured him before charges against him were announced.

Zaki is currently facing a range of charges, including "calling for protests without permission", "spreading false news" and "inciting violence and terrorism". 

Zaki, 28, had worked for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) as a researcher on gender and sexuality rights.

He is also a human rights advocate and has campaigned for the truth about the 2016 murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni.

Zaki's arrest has sparked a solidarity campaign in Italy, with politicians and activists urging Egyptian authorities to release him. 

Italian human rights activists have expressed concerns that Zaki could be at risk of torture and ill-treatment in Egypt's notorious prisons, drawing parallels with the torture of Regeni. 

Regeni's family has also expressed solidarity with the detained activist.

Most of the questions he was asked during his interrogation were related to his Facebook posts, according to Human Rights Watch.

Three other EIPR staff members, including the organisation's head, Gasser Abdelrazek, its criminal justice director, Karim Ennarah, and an administrator, Mohamed Basheer, were briefly detained in November after meeting with diplomats from France, the United States and several other European countries to discuss Egypt’s human rights conditions. They were released in December after a high-profile international campaign calling for their release.

However, EIPR's assets have now been frozen by the Egyptian public prosecutor, according to the group.

Honorary citizenship of Italian cities

Italy's decision came after more than 200,000 Italians signed a petition that began in February - which marked the one-year anniversary of Zaki’s detention - demanding that he be granted Italian citizenship and support so that he could be set free.

On Wednesday, 208 members of the senate voted in favour of the decision, out of 241 members present, none of whom voted against it.

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According to the resolution, as shared on EIPR’s Facebook page, the senate called on the Italian government: “To conduct the necessary consultations to grant Patrick Zaki Italian citizenship, to continue to demand his immediate release, to follow up on the development of his case sessions and the conditions of his detention, to take the necessary steps at the European level to protect human rights in countries where human rights violations continue, and for the government to take the initiative in the context of the Group of Seven major countries to focus on cases of repression of political activists and human rights defenders.”

Meanwhile, more than 50 Italian cities have announced the granting of honorary citizenship of their city to Zaki. This was done, EIPR said, in order to show their appreciation for him as a human rights defender and to demand his immediate release in a campaign called 100 Cities with Patrick, launched by a group of human rights activists in Italy.

Egypt has embarked on a brutal crackdown on dissent since 2013, jailing more than 60,000 activists and imposing strict censorship measures on public discourse.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who led the 2013 coup, has consistently denied that there are political prisoners in Egypt, framing the crackdown as part of a fight against terrorism.