Egypt extends detention of activist who criticized president

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian prosecutors Saturday extended the detention of an activist and vocal critic of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the activist’s lawyer said.

Police detained Patrick George Zaki, 28, an Egyptian student at the University of Bologna in Italy, after he arrived in Cairo earlier this month on what was supposed to be a brief visit home. He was ordered to remain in custody pending an investigation into allegations of disseminating false news and calling for unauthorized protests. Zaki has denied the claims against him.

Zaki told his lawyers he’d been tortured with electric shocks, beaten and blindfolded during interrogations about his activism, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The group previously employed Zaki as a gender rights researcher and is now providing him legal representation.

The country’s top prosecutor denied the torture allegations, saying that Zaki did not report that he was “harmed or violated during his arrest or detention” when he spoke to the public prosecution on Feb. 8, the day after his arrest.

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His defense attorney, Lubna Darwish, told The Associated Press that prosecutors renewed Zaki’s detention for another 15 days. The EIPR also reported the renewal.

Darwish said that despite her client’s ordeal, which included having his head shaved, Zaki was in good spirits. “They cut his hair, but he’s smiling,” she said.

El-Sissi’s government has arrested thousands of people since coming to power in 2013. Most of those were Islamists, but prominent secular activists have also been detained. Egypt outlawed all unauthorized protests that same year.

El-Sissi has rolled back freedoms that were won during the so-called Arab Spring uprising of 2011. Egyptian prosecutors now have broad powers to keep people detained for months and even years without ever filing charges or presenting evidence.

Zaki’s detention has dredged up painful memories of the 2016 disappearance in Egypt of 28-year-old Italian researcher Giulio Regeni. His body was found several days later by the side of a highway near Cairo with torture marks that activists and rights groups say resembled the results of widespread torture practices in Egyptian detention facilities.

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