Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1286, (10 - 16 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Tensions over Regeni investigation

Requests by Italian investigators for evidence relating to Giulio Regeni’s death have been only partially met, writes Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

“We are exerting maximum efforts to uncover the truth,” Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou said during Saturday’s memorial mass for murdered Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni at the Church of Saint Joseph in Cairo. “We are here to share the grief of his family, friends and the Italian people. We offer our sincere condolences for the loss of this young man.”

Regeni, 28, a PhD student at Cambridge University who was affiliated with the American University in Cairo, was researching Egypt’s labour movement when he was killed. Reported missing on the fifth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, Regeni’s mutilated and half-naked body was found on 3 February on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road.

In its initial report, Egypt’s Forensic Medicine Authority said the cause of death was blunt force trauma delivered by a sharp object to the back of the head which caused a cranial fracture and severe intracranial haemorrhaging. It also noted signs of torture on the body, including cigarette burns, bruises and cuts.

The authority’s final autopsy report on Regini was sent to the prosecutor-general’s office on 14 February. Its contents have yet to be disclosed. An autopsy conducted following the body’s repatriation to Rome revealed what Italy’s Minister of Interior Angelino Alfano called “inhuman, animal-like” violence.

Italian news agency ANSA quoted unidentified 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.” They also reported that the Italian student had fractures all over his body.

During Saturday’s memorial ceremony, Zaazou said he had no information about the killers, and insisted relations with Italy would not be affected by the case. The absence of the Italian ambassador from the ceremony, however, suggested continuing concerns in Rome about the course of the investigation.

On Wednesday 2 March, the Italian Foreign Ministry said the Egyptian authorities had finally provided the team of Italian investigators, who arrived in Egypt in the first week of February, with some of the information they had requested.

The information was forwarded hours after an Italian judicial source said Rome was considering recalling its seven-member investigative team from Cairo because of a lack of cooperation from their Egyptian counterparts, according to Reuters.

“It’s a first, useful step,” the Italian Foreign Ministry said. “Other material requested by our embassy has not yet been handed over.”

Reuters said Italian detectives “had received data about Regeni’s cell phone calls, a partial summary of the Egyptian autopsy and information gathered by police from witnesses.”

Fabrizio Cicchitto, chair of the Italian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, has demanded that Egypt do more to help Italy find “the gang of torturers” who killed Regeni.

“A response that gives names and surnames of the organised gang of torturers that killed Giulio Regeni is indispensable,” Cicchitto said on 29 February. He rejected a call from his Senate counterpart, Pier Ferdinando Casini, to recall the Italian ambassador to Egypt to protest the lack of cooperation.

Italian news agency ANSA has quoted Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni saying: “We will not settle for a convenient truth, nor for unlikely leads such as those suggested by Cairo.” Italian agents in Cairo, said Gentiloni, “must have access to all the sound files and footage as well as all the procedural files in the hands of the Giza prosecutors”.

Egyptian cooperation with Italy “can be and must be more effective,” said Gentiloni. “It cannot be restricted to formalities.”

Giacomo Stucchi, head of the Italian parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Committee (COPASIR), accused Cairo of “trying to cover up the murder of Regeni”. He was quoted by ANSA saying “there are unacceptable attempts to provide convenient truths”.

On 24 February the Interior Ministry issued a statement complaining that the results of the investigation were being pre-empted by foreign newspapers “jumping to conclusions and circulating rumours without any evidence”. This, claimed the Interior Ministry, had misled public opinion and affected the course of the investigation.

The statement added the Egyptian investigation team was focussing on checking Regeni’s background and his relationships. “Regeni had broad connections and relationships despite having only been in the country for a few months. The investigation team has interviewed Regeni’s foreign and Egyptian acquaintances to discuss in detail their relationship with him,” it said.

“Although the team has not yet identified the perpetrators of the incident it hasn’t ruled out any possibilities, including criminal activity and a desire for revenge due to personal reasons, especially in light of Regeni’s many relationships with people near where he lived and where he studied.”

On 1 March Reuters quoted two sources from the Egyptian prosecution who claimed that an Egyptian forensics official had told the public prosecutor’s office that the autopsy on the Italian student suggested he had been interrogated for up to seven days before his death. The prosecution sources said Hisham Abdel-Hamid, director of the Department of Forensic Medicine, had made the statement while being questioned by the public prosecutor’s office.

“Abdel-Hamid said during questioning that the wounds on the body occurred over different intervals of between 10 to 14 hours. That means that whoever killed him was interrogating him for information.”

 Shaaban Al-Shami, assistant justice minister for forensic medical affairs, told Egypt’s official MENA news that Abdel-Hamid had not been questioned by the public prosecutor’s office.

Egypt’s interior and foreign ministers have repeatedly dismissed allegations that the security forces were behind Regeni’s disappearance and murder.

“It never happened,” Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar said during a press conference a month ago when asked if Regeni had 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.

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