‘Tortured’ Egyptian student’s plight drawn by Italian street artist

The mural by Laika in Rome Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Arabic caption reads “freedom” while the speech bubble in Italian says “this time everything will be fine”

An Egyptian studying in Italy was detained when he flew to Cairo last week and his family and human rights groups say he has been tortured.

Now a mural has appeared near the Egyptian embassy in Rome showing student Patrick Zaky being comforted by Giulio Regeni, an Italian murdered in Egypt in 2016.

Regeni is seen hugging him, saying “this time everything will be fine”.

Egypt’s interior ministry has said he is being held on a prosecution warrant.

Mr Zaky, 27, is being held on suspicion of spreading fake news, misusing social media and inciting protest without permission, according to rights group the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

The interior ministry says he is being held on remand for 15 days pending further inquiry. A hearing has been set for 22 February.

Who is Patrick Zaky?

He works at the rights group as a gender and human rights researcher but he has been on leave since last summer, doing a master’s degree in gender studies at the University of Bologna in Northern Italy.

The warrant for his arrest was issued in September, after he had travelled to Italy, but lawyers say he never knew of it. When he flew into Cairo to visit his family he was immediately detained pending an investigation.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Zaky-Regeni mural by street artist Laika is just a stone’s throw from the Egyptian embassy

EIPR says he was taken to a National Security Investigations facility in Cairo before being moved to his home town of Mansoura some 120km (75 miles) northeast of Cairo.

Lawyers who met him at the public prosecutor’s office on Saturday said he had been given electric shocks, beaten and questioned about his activism, EIPR said. Human rights lawyer Wael Ghally, who saw the student, told Italian media he had been beaten with electric cables rather than sticks to avoid marks of torture.

Image copyright Amnesty International
Image caption Regeni was murdered and his body found dumped on the outskirts of Cairo in February 2016

As news of Patrick Zaky’s arrest reached Italy, comparisons were quickly made with the detention and ultimate murder of Giulio Regeni in Egypt. The Italian student had been researching trade unions in Cairo as part of his doctorate at Cambridge when he disappeared.

Street artist Laika, who put up the mural in Rome, said what happened to Regeni could not be allowed to happen again.

Italian reports say the Egyptian student was asked about his links to Italy and Regeni’s family.

The interior ministry emphasised that Mr Zaky was an Egyptian citizen.

What reaction has there been?

The student’s detention has been condemned by human rights groups and the Italian government, which is still pursuing Regeni’s murder.

Amnesty International called for his immediate release and Human Rights Watch said the arrest was a serious escalation of Egypt’s campaign against rights groups and activists.

Italy’s foreign ministry has asked the EU to monitor the case but is in an awkward position because of already frosty relations over the Regeni killing.

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Media captionThe people in Egypt who ‘disappear’

At the end of last year, Italian prosecutors said claims made by Egypt about the murder had either been contradicted by Regeni’s post mortem examination or debunked.

The 28-year-old’s body was found in a ditch on 3 February nine days after he disappeared, and prosecutors say he was tortured at different times before he died from a broken neck.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told reporters that, while the student was an Egyptian national, Italy was doing its utmost to find out what had happened.

Italy still has a trading relationship with Egypt and is in talks on the sale of two frigates to the Egyptian Navy.

Giulio Regeni’s father has criticised Rome’s decision not to recall its ambassador to Cairo in protest at Egypt’s failure to co-operate on the case.

Patrick Zaky’s sister, Marize, told Italian media that they found out about his arrest through social media and could not understand why he had been detained.