On July 19, 2023, Egypt’s Presidential Pardon Committee announced that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had issued a pardon to Patrick George Zaki, an Egyptian graduate student at Italy’s University of Bologna, one day after the Mansoura Emergency State Security Court had sentenced him to imprisonment for “broadcasting false news about the internal conditions of the country that would disturb security and social peace.” The president exercised his power to pardon individuals under article 155 of the Egyptian Constitution. The Egyptian ambassador to Italy, Bassam Rady, was quoted as saying that “Sisi pardoned Zaki to support relations between Egypt and Italy.”
The Case against Patrick George Zaki
Egyptian authorities had arrested Zaki at Cairo International Airport in February 2020 on his return from studies in Italy for a July 2019 article he had published online detailing incidents of discrimination against the Egyptian Coptic Christian community, of which he is a member. Reportedly, the article “did not arouse the interest of the Egyptian State Security Prosecution” at the time it was published.
Zaki was kept in pretrial detention from February 2020 to December 2021 when he was released but was banned from traveling outside Egypt.
Following the Emergency State Security Court’s guilty verdict in July 2023, Zaki was again taken into custody, which prompted his defense attorney to file a petition before the General Public Prosecutor arguing the illegality of the detention because the president of the republic had not ratified the court’s verdict.
Additionally, the defense attorney claimed that his client’s detention violated Circular No. 10 of 2017 issued by the General Public Prosecutor concerning the execution of verdicts issued by Emergency State Security Courts. The circular stipulates that if the accused person is present during the trial hearing while not in custody and is then sentenced by the court to prison, the accused must be released without implementing the penalty of imprisonment until the president of the republic ratifies the court’s verdict.
Emergency State Security Courts
The Emergency State Security Courts were established by article 7 of Law No. 162 of 1958. The provisions of Law No. 162 are applicable only during a state of emergency. (Law No. 162 of 1958, art. 1.) On October 25, 2021, President Sisi suspended the state of emergency in Egypt for the first time since he declared it in April 2017. However, Emergency State Security Courts still have the power to hear cases related to crimes against state security that occurred during the state of emergency. (Art. 19.) These courts, composed of a panel of three judges (art. 7, para. 2), have jurisdiction over crimes related to national security (art. 9).
Verdicts issued by the Emergency State Security Courts are final and may not be appealed, and the president of the republic must ratify the verdicts for them to be final. (Art. 12.) The penalties imposed by the Emergency State Security Courts may be commuted, replaced by a lesser penalty, abolished, or suspended by the president. (Art. 14.)
The Offense of Disseminating False Information
Article 80(d) of Law No. 158 of 1937, as amended, stipulates that any Egyptian who deliberately broadcasts abroad false news, statements, or rumors about the internal situation of the country, which would weaken financial confidence in the state or its prestige or harm the national interests of the country, is punishable by a fine or a term of imprisonment of six months to five years, or both. This provision does not mention a specific means for disseminating such false information — it applies to any means, whether print or online, that the offender uses.
George Sadek, Law Library of Congress
July 21, 2023
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