Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

‘It never happened’

The Interior Ministry denies Western newspaper reports that claim Italian researcher Giulio Regeni was detained by police before being brutally murdered, reports Ahmed Morsy

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On Monday the head of the Interior Ministry’s Security Information Centre issued an English statement refuting Western newspaper reports claiming Italian PhD candidate Giulio Regeni was arrested by the police shortly before his death.

“The team investigating Regeni’s disappearance and subsequent murder is working in collaboration with Italian investigators and the outcome of the investigation will be made public when inquiries are complete,” he said.

Regeni, 28, a PhD student at Cambridge University, was in Cairo researching Egypt’s labour movement. Reported missing on the fifth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, his body was found nine days later on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road.

On Friday the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera reported that a Cairo street vendor had told Italian detectives he saw plainclothed officers detaining Regeni on 25 January outside the metro station close to the Italian’s flat in Dokki. The account first surfaced in the New York Times which ran a story claiming: “Three Egyptian security officials who said they had inquired about the case said that Mr Regeni had been taken into custody by the authorities because he had been impertinent with the officers. ‘He was very rude and acted like a tough guy,’ one of the officials said.”

The New York Times added that the three officials, who had been interviewed separately, said that Regeni had “drawn suspicion because of contacts on his phone that the officials said included people associated with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the leftist April 6 Youth Movement”.

On Monday, Corriere Della Sera appeared to backtrack, reporting, “The witnesses tracked down by the US newspaper do not appear to be fully credible.”

Regeni’s last known communication appears to have been at 7:41pm on 25 January when Corriere Della Sera says he sent a message to his girlfriend on Facebook saying, “I’m going to see Dr Hassanein.” Hassanein is an expert on Egypt’s labour movement.

A judicial source told Al-Ahram Online that the prosecution had received mobile tracking reports showing that Regeni’s last phone call was at 7.20pm when he called an Italian friend and spoke for 20 minutes.

The Forensics Authority sent its final autopsy report on Regini to the prosecutor general’s office on Saturday. Though the prosecutor’s office has said it will not publicly disclose the contents of the report while investigations are ongoing, a senior source at the Forensics Authority told Reuters, “Regeni had seven broken ribs, signs of electrocution on his penis, traumatic injuries all over his body, and a brain haemorrhage.”

His body also bore signs of cuts from a sharp instrument, suspected to be a razor, abrasions and bruises. “He was likely assaulted using a stick as well as being punched and kicked,” the source said.

A second autopsy, conducted after Regini’s body was returned to Italy, confirmed that the student had been subjected to what Italian Minister of Interior Angelino Alfano described as “inhuman, animal-like” violence. Italian news agency ANSA quoted sources close to the Italian coroners saying: “The findings showed that Regeni’s neck was twisted, the vertebra was broken and he was left unable to breathe.”

The Italian daily La Repubblica reported that Regeni’s autopsy revealed he had “his finger and toe nails pulled out” and concluded that his “death squad killers believed him to be a spy”.

Minister of Interior Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar and Egypt’s ambassador to Italy, Amr Helmi, have repeatedly denied the involvement of security agencies in Regeni’s disappearance and torture.

“It never happened,” Abdel-Ghaffar said during a press conference last week in response to a question on the possibility of Regeni having been detained by the police.

“There have been rumours and stories in the press linking the security apparatus to the incident. It is completely unacceptable that such accusations are being directed at the Interior Ministry. We are doing our best to identify and arrest the perpetrators of the incident as soon as possible,” he said.

Khaled Okasha, director of the National Centre for Security Studies, says conflicting initial statements issued by security officials and the time lapse between Regini’s disappearance and the matter being accorded serious police attention had “fuelled a state of uncertainty on the part of Italians”.

“Security officials were lax in dealing with the death of Regeni and missed a chance to improve their credibility,” Okasha told Al-Ahram Weekly before the issuance of Interior Ministry’s Monday statement. “Seeming ambiguities in the security apparatus’s willingness to investigate the incident and confused statements by officials fuelled uncertainty.”

After the discovery of Regini’s body, Ministry of Interior officials told Al-Youm Al-Sabei news website that the Italian student had been killed in a road accident.

The ensuing confusion, says Okasha, created a vacuum quickly filled by speculation that was then picked up by news outlets like the New York Times. Okasha told the Weekly on Tuesday that though the English statement of the Interior Ministry is quite late, it is considered a positive step to clarify the truth for the Western public opinion.

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warned Egypt its friendship was on the line over the probe into the death of the PhD candidate. “I extend my condolences to Giulio’s family and I say that we have told the Egyptians: friendship is a precious asset but it is only possible on the basis of truth.”

 Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said in a radio interview that in the government’s discussions with the Italian authorities “no speculation or accusations have been levied” about the involvement of Egyptian security forces.

“We have a very large Egyptian population, expatriate population, in Italy, and on a daily basis they face criminal activity,” Shoukri continued. “If I was to immediately conclude that criminal activity was somehow related to the Italian government it would be very difficult to conduct international relations.”

More than 4,600 academics around the world signed an open letter, published in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, demanding an investigation into the death of Regeni and the “growing number of forced disappearances” in Egypt. The letter attracted signatories from more than 90 countries and across a wide range of disciplines.

The letter notes that, according to human rights organisations, state institutions in Egypt “routinely practise the same kinds of torture that Giulio is reported to have suffered against hundreds of Egyptian citizens each year”.

It called for an independent investigation into Regeni’s death and “all instances of forced disappearances, cases of torture and deaths in detention during January and February 2016 ... in order that those responsible for these crimes can be identified and brought to justice.”

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