UPDATE Thurs. July 20: Zaki released from prison after presidential pardon

(NEW YORK) –– PEN America expressed relief today that Egyptian authorities released Patrick Zaki from prison after he was granted a presidential pardon the day before. On Tuesday, Zaki had been sentenced to three years in prison for “spreading false news” by an emergency court, which does not allow for appeals.

“It’s a relief that Zaki has been freed but he never should have been arrested or sentenced to prison in the first place,” said Justin Shilad, research and advocacy lead for the Middle East and North Africa at PEN America.

Mohamed Baqer, a lawyer for imprisoned writer Alaa Abd El Fattah, also received a pardon Wednesday and was released today. PEN America continues to call for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah, Galal El-Behairy, and all others imprisoned in Egypt for expressing themselves freely.

Tues., July 18

(NEW YORK)— PEN America condemned an Egyptian court’s three year prison sentence today against writer and researcher Patrick Zaki and called on authorities to release him immediately. An emergency state security court in the Egyptian city of Mansoura sentenced Zaki for “spreading false news” in a 2019 article he wrote about attacks on Egypt’s Coptic Christian community.  Zaki was immediately transferred to prison; his sentence cannot be appealed. 

Justin Shilad, research and advocacy lead for the Middle East and North Africa at PEN America, said: “The sentence against Patrick Zaki is an outrage, and indicative of the Egyptian government’s ongoing assault against free expression and inquiry. The weaponization of ‘false news’ charges against those who write about inconvenient truths is an irony lost on no one except, perhaps, the Egyptian government itself. Egyptian authorities must release Patrick Zaki immediately and unconditionally and drop all charges against him.”

Egyptian authorities arrested Zaki in February 2020 upon his arrival at Cairo International Airport to visit his family. At the time, he was a graduate student at the University of Bologna in Italy and was a researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an Egyptian human rights NGO. During his detention, Zaki was beaten, tortured, and subjected to a smear campaign in Egyptian state media. He was released in December 2021 after his trial was postponed, and after spending a year and a half in pre-trial detention. Zaki has since been barred from leaving Egypt. Earlier this month, he received his masters degree in women’s and gender studies via video.

On Wednesday, PEN America joined more than 40 civil society organizations in calling on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in a letter not to ratify the verdict handed down to Zaki and instead to quash it in its entirety.  

At least ten writers are behind bars in Egypt, according to PEN America’s most recent Freedom to Write Index. Egyptian authorities have previously targeted academics for their research and writing on sensitive issues. Egyptian writer and researcher Ismail Alexandrani was released from prison in December 2022 after serving seven years of a ten year sentence handed down by a military court. Giulio Regeni, an Italian PhD student researching independent Egyptian trade unions, was abducted and found dead in Egypt in February 2016; Italian authorities accused Egyptian security officials of killing him.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057