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February 10, 2020

Members of Congress Should Question Egyptian Ambassador About Rights Activist

Members of Congress Should Question Egyptian Ambassador About Rights Activist

Brian Dooley
Senior Advisor

Another prominent human rights defender has been seized, detained and tortured by Egyptian police, and members of the U.S. Congress should summon Egypt's ambassador in Washington to demand an explanation for what's going on. Patrick George Zaki, who works for the local NGO the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), was arrested on arrival at Cairo airport on Friday morning, February 7. The EIPR has built a strong reputation over many years for its human rights work. Human Rights First has worked with the NGO since it was founded in 2002.

“When Patrick is at the office he's always fidgety, juggling too many cases of legal aid and assistance, while always staying in close contact with the local communities,  networks, and coalitions our work revolves around,” a work colleague told me. “He always sees the connections between different systematic human rights violations, focusing on groups faced with multiple layers of prejudice and injustice. Working with those seeking legal assistance, Patrick always gives his full attention, with consistency,  commitment, and compassion,” she said.

He had been studying in Bologna, Italy for the last six months and was coming home for a quick family visit. But when he arrived he was taken into the notorious office of National Security Investigations (NSI) at the airport. From there he was taken to another NSI office in the city, and then transferred to local NSI building in his home town of Mansoura, about 75 miles from Cairo. Lawyers who have seen him since say he was threatened, beaten and electrocuted while in NSI custody. His interrogation focused on his human rights work, said the lawyers. EIPR said that on the morning of Saturday, February 8, the authorities presented him with a list of charges including publishing rumors and false news that aim to disturb social peace and sow chaos; incitement to protest without permission from the relevant authorities with the aim of undermining state authority; calling for the overthrow of the state; managing a social media account that aims to undermine the social order and public safety; and incitement to commit violence and terrorist crimes.

These are the usual litany of allegations thrown at human rights activists by the authorities under Egyptian President Fattah Abdel el-Sisi. Since he took power in a 2013 coup his government has crushed local civil society, targeting and jailing human rights defenders. The Trump administration, meanwhile, continues to ply el-Sisi with weapons and political support, continuing the decades-long policy of  U.S. government support for Egypt's dictators. 

Members of Congress worried about Egypt's increasing violence against its rights activists, about the suffocation of dissent, or about the routine torture of prisoners, should consider inviting Egypt's Ambassador to the U.S. Yasser Reda to Capitol Hill. They should ask him why, apart from the moral indefensibility of arbitrary detention and torture, the jailing and abusing rights activists makes sense. They should ask him why silencing dissidents is good for Egypt or the region, and why torturing detainees is a good idea when plenty of evidence shows it helps ISIS with recruiting abused prisoners angry with the authorities. They should ask why Ambassador Reda's government is so afraid of peaceful activists like Zaki, why he's still being held, and when he will be freed. They should tell him Egypt needs leaders like Zaki to help rebuild the country and overcome its polarization.