Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi pardoned two prominent rights activists, Patrick Zaki and Mohammed El-Baqer, on Wednesday, a day after an emergency court found Zaki guilty of “spreading false news” and sentenced him to three years in prison.
Zaki, a well-known researcher, was arrested in February 2020 at Cairo Airport upon his return from Italy, where he was studying. He was accused of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group. His trial was widely criticized by human rights groups, who said that the charges against him were politically motivated.
El-Baqer, a leading human rights lawyer, has been imprisoned for four years after being found guilty in December 2021 of joining a terrorist organization and spreading false news inside and outside the country. The conviction was handed down by an emergency state security court, which is not subject to the same standards of due process as regular courts.
The pardons were welcomed by human rights groups and political figures in Egypt and abroad.
The board of trustees of Egypt’s National Dialogue said that the pardons “reaffirm the President’s keenness to provide all positive atmosphere for the success of the national dialogue.”
Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said that she was “grateful” to President Al-Sisi for pardoning Zaki and that she wished him “a life of serenity and success.”
“Zaki today received a pardon from the Egyptian President, and I want to thank President Al-Sisi for this very important gesture,” said Meloni.
“Ever since our first meeting last November, I have never stopped raising the issue, and I have always found him to be attentive and helpful. And I want to thank the intelligence (services) and diplomats, both Italian and Egyptian, who in recent months have never stopped working to achieve the desired solution,” she added.
It was also welcomed by Hossam Bahgat, Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), for which Zaki worked while also studying in Italy.
The Presidential Pardon Committee said that the pardons came in response to requests made by the Board of Trustees of the National Dialogue and other political forces.
The pardons are a significant development in Egypt’s human rights record. They come at a time when the country is facing increasing international pressure to improve its human rights record.