Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Why the truth must be told

The investigation into the murder of Giulio Regeni is reaching an end, writes Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

A delegation from the Public Prosecution is expected to arrive in Rome today to provide the Italian authorities with the latest results of their investigation into the murder of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni. The delegation was initially due in Rome on Tuesday but the trip was postponed upon Egypt’s request.

The office of the Public Prosecutor issued a statement saying that the “delegation will travel to Italy to present the outcome of the investigations carried out by the general prosecution”. The statement added that the visit comes as part of the positive cooperation with Italian prosecutors and in accordance with the agreement made during Italian public prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone’s visit to Egypt last month.

The delegation is to be headed by Egypt’s Deputy Public Prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman and includes police officers involved in the case.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi told a visiting delegation from NATO’s parliamentary assembly on Tuesday that Egypt deeply regretted Regini’s death and intended to “transparently” continue its “full cooperation” with Italy to resolve the case.

The visit comes amid mounting pressure on Egypt to reveal the circumstances that led to the brutal murder of Regeni. According to Italian news agency ANSA, Rome prosecutors will ask Egyptian investigators for the phone records of 10 of Regeni’s friends and acquaintances to help reconstruct his final days. The “exhaustive dossier” that the Egyptian security delegation will hand over to Pignatone will contain the results of investigations by security forces into meetings between the murdered researcher and street traders and trade unionists in Cairo according to the state-owned daily Akhbar Al-Youm. The Italian media has interpreted the Akhbar Al-Youm’s report as an admission by the Egyptian authorities that they were tracking Regeni prior to his disappearance.

Regeni, 28, a PhD student at Cambridge University in the UK and affiliated with the American University in Cairo, was in Egypt to research trade unions and labour movements. He was reported missing on the fifth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. His mutilated and half-naked body was found on 3 February on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road.

In its initial report into Regeni’s murder 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, causing a cranial fracture and severe intracranial hemorrhaging. It also noted signs of torture on the body, including cigarette burns, bruises and cuts. The authority’s final autopsy report on Regeni was sent to the prosecutor-general’s office on 14 February.

An autopsy conducted following the body’s repatriation to Rome revealed what Italian 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 vertebrae broken and he was left unable to breathe.” They also reported that the Italian student had fractures all over his body.

“I won’t tell you what they had done to him,” Regeni’s mother Paola told the Italian parliament last week. “At the mortuary I recognised him just by the tip of his nose. The rest of him was no longer Giulio.”

Paola said that she had taken a photograph of her son’s body and was prepared to publish it if Cairo continued to “refuse to share the findings of its probe with the Italian police”. She continued by saying the family trusts in a firm response from the government should Egyptian investigators fail to come up with convincing answers at this week’s meeting in Rome.

“If 5 April  [the day on which the meeting was original scheduled] turns out to be an empty day we trust in a strong response from our government - a very, very strong one,” she said. “We have been waiting for answers about Giulio since 25 January”.

On 24 March the Interior Ministry issued a statement saying that security forces had “succeeded in targeting” a five-member criminal gang, all of whom were killed in an exchange of gunfire with police during their attempted arrest in New Cairo. The gang, said the Interior Ministry, specialised in “impersonating policemen” to kidnap and rob foreign residents in Egypt.

The Interior Ministry went on to say that items belonging to slain Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni were found at the home of the sister of one of the gang members who died in the shootout. It concluded its statement by thanking the Italian investigative team working on the Regeni case in Egypt for “its efforts and cooperation”.

Rome immediately cast doubt on Cairo’s explanation of Regeni’s murder. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Italy “will not stop until we have the truth” and that it would not be “satisfied with some convenient truth”.

Two days later the Interior Ministry appeared to retract its suggestions the perpetrators of Regeni’s gruesome murder had been killed in the shootout.

Italian officials announced: “The Egyptians changed tack within hours and have agreed to extend the investigations after pressure from Rome”.  The Interior Ministry’s response was to deny that it had changed its position under Italian pressure. It did, however, confirm that the two month-long investigation into Regeni’s death was continuing.

Italian and some foreign media have accused elements from the Egyptian security services of being behind the torture and murder of Regeni. The Interior Ministry has repeatedly denied security forces were responsible for his death.

This week the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published a documented report of 533 forced disappearances in Egypt in the last eight months. Though the truth about Giulio has not yet emerged, the report said, his death has brought the phenomenon of forced disappearances to public attention. The newspaper started its report by quoting Regeni’s mother: “What happened to Giulio is not an isolated case.”

For weeks Rome and Cairo have been engaged in a tense standoff, with one senior Italian senator saying Italy ought to consider recalling its ambassador from Cairo and declare Egypt unsafe for Italian tourists if investigators are not forthcoming. Regeni’s parents insist Egypt’s explanations of their son’s death ring hollow and have pressed the Italian government to step up pressure on Cairo by declaring Egypt to be an “unsafe” country for Italian tourists.

Versions emanating from Egypt about how Regeni died have caused incredulity in Italy. On Tuesday, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni warned he is ready to take “proportional” action and told the senate and parliament that he would not accept “distorted or convenient truths” from the Egyptian delegation. “For [our] national interest we will not allow Italy’s dignity to be trampled on.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry criticised Gentiloni’s comments, saying they “complicated the situation”.

The Italian media has speculated the government may recall its ambassador from Cairo or even go as far as imposing economic sanctions if Egypt keeps up stonewalling on the case.

The Egyptian media has begun to express fears that bilateral relations between Italy and Egypt are being strained to breaking point.  Security expert Khaled Okasha, who in an earlier interview with Al-Ahram Weekly blamed conflicting initial statements issued by security officials and the time-lapse between Regeni’s disappearance and it being accorded serious police attention for “the state of uncertainty on the part of the Italians”, told AP on Tuesday that if Egypt brings no news to the Italians relations between the two countries will enter “a dark tunnel”.

On Sunday Abdel-Hadi Allam, the editor-in-chief of the state-owned Al-Ahram daily, used his regular column to call on officials to deal with the Regeni case in a straightforward manner. If they fail to do so, he warned, the case could begin to resonate in the same way as the 2010 police murder of Khaled Said. His beating to death by policemen, which the Interior Ministry attempted to deny, acts as a catalyst for the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

“The naive attempts to explain away Regeni’s death have hurt Egypt at home and abroad and offered some a justification to judge what is going on in the country now to be no different from what went on before the 25 January  Revolution,” Allam wrote.

On Monday CBC anchor Lamis Al-Hadidi demanded during her programme that the Egyptian state disclose all the information it has to the Italians “for the sake of the homeland”.

Hanan Al-Badri, the head of Egyptian magazine Rosal-Youssef’s office in Washington, said the Egyptian delegation must now disclose everything it knows about Regeni’s murder. In a post on her Facebook page, Al-Badri wrote that Italian investigators were already in possession of solid evidence, acquired through a third partner, that includes recordings of phone calls between police officers at the scene of the crime. “The Italians know the name of Regeni’s killers and their history, including the fact the main actor received a one-year suspended sentence after being convicted to torturing a detainee to death.”

The truth, said Al-Badri, is inescapable. Egypt’s choice now is to either produce Regeni’s torturers or face the cut off of relations with Italy and other European Union states.

The Italian Association for Responsible Tourism (AITR) has already suspended its flights to Egypt until the circumstances of the killing of Regeni are disclosed. Italian companies affiliated with the association agreed to halt flights and have cancelled contracts due to be signed this month.

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