World (AP)

Pardoned Egypt activist says he plans to travel to Italy, continue human rights work | AP News

Pardoned Egypt activist says he plans to travel to Italy, continue human rights work | AP News

CAIRO (AP) — A high-profile Egyptian activist who was released from prison this week said Friday he plans to travel to Italy, where his case garnered significant attention. He said he will continue to work in the field of human rights and live between the two countries.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Patrick George Zaki, who received a presidential pardon on Wednesday, said he hopes that other prominent jailed dissidents would be let go soon, including one of the most famous, Alaa Abdel Fattah.

“We hope that in the coming period there will be a presidential pardon for all prisoners of opinion,” Zaki said.

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Egypt, which has carried out a relentless crackdown on dissent for nearly a decade, has also pardoned dozens of detainees in the past year. President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who has overseen the crackdown, has previously denied that his country has political prisoners, and justified government measures by saying they are needed to fight the spread of terrorism.

The release of Zaki, whose case was championed by Italy’s government, marks the end of a three-year ordeal.

Zaki, who is Christian, was arrested in February 2020 shortly after landing in Cairo for a short trip home from Italy where he was studying at the University of Bologna. He was accused of “disseminating false news” following an opinion article he wrote in 2019 on alleged discrimination against the Coptic Christian minority in the country.

He was released in December 2021 after spending 22 months in pretrial detention but had to remain in Egypt and was not allowed to travel abroad, pending trial. Zaki earned a master’s degree with distinction earlier this month without being able to go to Italy because he was barred from travel. He defended his thesis by videoconference.

Days before he was pardoned, an Egyptian court convicted him of the charge of “disseminating false news” and sentenced him to three years in prison.

Zaki’s case has echoed in Italy, reminding many of the tragic fate of Italian student Giulio Regeni who was abducted and killed in Cairo in 2016. The Italian government had repeatedly called for Zaki’s release since his arrest in 2020.

“I will be in Bologna next Sunday night,” Zaki said, adding that he would only make a short trip, that he needed to return to Egypt for his wedding in September.

After that, he said he plans to pursue a doctorate in Italy and travel back to Egypt regularly. He said he is grateful for all the support the Italian people had shown him.

“I will continue to defend human rights around the world, and resume my work normally,” he said.