A high-profile Egyptian activist who was recently released from prison landed Sunday in Italy, where the government championed his case.
Patrick George Zaki was greeted by applause and a throng of video and still cameras as he emerged into the arrivals hall at Milan’s Malpensa Airport after travelling on a commercial flight. He continued to Bologna, where he had been living and studying before being detained in Cairo in 2020.
“This is the most important day of my life,’’ Zaki, 32, told reporters as he made his way through the Milan airport. Later, in Bologna, he pledged to continue his human rights work.
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.
Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni told reporters in Rome that Zaki's return was “the result of diplomacy, founded on the basis of mutual respect”.
She added that Italy had not stopped pressing for clarity on Regeni's fate from Egyptian authorities: “I don't consider the issue closed. I continue to work on it, as I did with the case of Zaki, without speaking (publicly).”
Zaki was pardoned last week, just days after an Egyptian court convicted him of a charge of disseminating false news, stemming from an article he wrote in 2019 about alleged discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt.
Zaki, who is Christian, was arrested in February 2020 shortly after landing in Cairo for a brief trip home from Italy. He spent 22 months in prison before being released in 2021 pending trial, on condition he remains in Egypt.
He received a master’s degree with distinction earlier this month from the University of Bologna, defending his thesis by video conference.
In Bologna, he was received by university officials, who awarded him his diploma in person.