Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1292, (21 - 27 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The plot thickens

The Interior Ministry once again slams a report claiming that Giulio Regeni was detained by police prior to his disappearance and murder, reports Ahmed Morsy

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Interior Ministry issued a statement on Thursday describing as “unfounded” a report published by Reuters news agency claiming that “police had custody of Giulio Regeni as part of a general security sweep on the day he vanished”. Reuters cited six police and intelligence officials who independently told the news agency that, the Italian national “was detained by police and then transferred to a National Security compound the day he vanished”.

The six sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Regeni and an Egyptian citizen, who was picked up at the same time, were not specifically targeted but were detained as part of a general security sweep.

“Regeni was picked up by plainclothes police near Gamal Abdel-Nasser metro station in Cairo on the evening of 25 January,” the sources told Reuters. Moreover, an intelligence official said Regeni was taken to Azbakiya police station where he was held for thirty minutes before being transferred to a National Security compound.

“Everything published in this regard is unfounded,” retorted a statement by the ministry’s media spokesman, adding that the Ministry “upholds the right to take legal action against propagators of these rumours and false news”.

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

In its initial report on 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 haemorrhaging. 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 as 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.

For weeks, Rome and Cairo have been in a tense standoff over the murder. During a visit by an Egyptian judicial delegation headed by Deputy Public Prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman to Rome on 6 April to update Italian authorities about Regeni’s murder investigation, Italy recalled its ambassador to Egypt for “consultations” over lack of progress in the probe. Following the visit, Italy’s Foreign Minister said meetings between Italian and Egyptian prosecutors had not produced the required results.

During a news conference with his French counterpart François Hollande on Sunday, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said Egypt is the target of attempts to destroy its state institutions and isolate it from its European neighbours by creating a negative image of the country. “Egypt is ready to cooperate with full transparency with Italian investigators,” said Sisi. He added that Egypt’s relations with France and Italy are unique and “we will never forget Italian and French support for Egypt in its hour of need”.

Italian Senator Lucio Barani of the Liberal Popular Alliance Bloc and Senator Francesco Amoroso, the former president of the Euro-Mediterranean parliament, urged for the return of the Italian ambassador to Cairo. Barani and Amoroso were speaking during an interview this week on Sada El-Balad TV with renowned Egyptian businessman and current honorary president of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliament Mohamed Abul-Enein.

The two Italian politicians also ruled out the possibility of the Egyptian government’s involvement in Regeni’s murder. “Regeni’s killers are the enemies of both Egypt and Italy,” they said, describing the case as a "plot" to spoil Italian-Egyptian ties. “We believe there are people who wanted to spoil cultural, political, social and especially economic relations with Egypt,” said Barani. “The end they wanted for Regini was unfortunate, but they did it for political and economic goals. We, as the major party in Italy, believe the Egyptian government and President Sisi are not involved in this case.”

Amoroso noted: “We request from our friend President Sisi and Egyptians to do their utmost to unveil the truth behind the incident, and we are sure that our Egyptian friends will respond to our request”.

Egypt’s interior and foreign ministers have repeatedly dismissed the notion that security forces were behind Regeni’s murder. Meanwhile, human rights groups in Egypt accuse the Interior Ministry of widespread abuses, which the ministry denies. 

In March, Reuters quoted two prosecution sources who claimed that an Egyptian forensics official told the public prosecutor's office the autopsy he conducted on the Italian student showed he was interrogated for up to seven days before he was killed. The report concluded that the autopsy’s “findings are the strongest indication yet that Regeni was killed by Egyptian security services because they point to interrogation methods, such as burning with cigarettes, in intervals over several days”.

On 11 February, a report published by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera claimed that a Cairo street vendor told Italian detectives he had seen plainclothes officers detaining a foreigner on 25 January outside the metro station close to the Italian’s flat in Dokki. Such accounts first surfaced in The New York Times, which ran a story claiming that “three Egyptian security officials who said they had inquired about the case said that 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 Interior Ministry responded by saying some people are “pre-empting the results of the investigation by jumping to conclusions and circulating rumours in foreign newspapers without any evidence”, which consequently “misled public opinion and affected the course of the investigation”.

Earlier in February, in response to a question on the possibility that Regeni had been detained by the police, Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar said: “It never happened”. Abdel-Ghaffar told a news conference: “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.”

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