Lawyer: Detained Egyptian student moved to notorious prison

The lawyer for an Egyptian rights activist says her client has been transferred to a notorious prison complex outside Cairo

CAIRO -- Police on Thursday transferred an Egyptian rights activist who was arrested after returning to Cairo from Italy last month to a notorious prison complex, his lawyer said.

Patrick George Zaki, 28, a student at the University of Bologna in Italy, has been detained since arriving at Cairo airport Feb. 7 for what was supposed to be a brief trip home.

Zaki has been accused of disseminating false news and calling for unauthorized protests. An Egyptian court rejected Zaki’s request last month to be released and will hear his case again Saturday.

Egypt’s broad counter-terrorism laws have come to encompass most opposition activities, and allow prosecutors to repeatedly renew 15-day pretrial detention periods without filing charges or presenting evidence.

Police informed Zaki’s parents, who showed up to his detention site in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura on Thursday, that they had sent their son to Tora Prison, according to defense lawyer Huda Nasrallah.

Tora Prison, on the outskirts of Cairo, has become known for its overcrowded and unhealthy conditions. Nasrallah said she didn't yet know Zaki’s location in the sprawling complex. Its blocks range from minimum-security lock-ups to the supermax facility known as “Scorpion,” which houses many political prisoners who have reported severe mistreatment.

“This is alarming because it’s the third time that Zaki has been moved without explanation or reason,” said Lobna Darwish, his former colleague at The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

The government’s crackdown on dissent has escalated under general-turned-President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who led the military’s removal of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi.

Morsi’s one-year rule proved divisive and sparked nationwide protests. After el-Sissi came to power in 2013, his government outlawed all unauthorized demonstrations.

Zaki’s case has sparked an outcry in Italy, a country still traumatized by the killing of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni in 2016. Italy’s public prosecutor is investigating several Egyptian security agents in connection with Regeni’s torture and death.