Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1293, (28 April - 4 May 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1293, (28 April - 4 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Reuters under investigation

After slamming what it referred to as an “unfounded” report, the Interior Ministry has filed a complaint against Reuters for publishing “false news”, reports Ahmed Morsy

Reuters under investigation
Reuters under investigation
Al-Ahram Weekly

Egyptian authorities are investigating Reuters news agency following publication of a report last Thursday that claimed that Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni was detained by police prior to his disappearance. The Ministry of Interior filed a police complaint against Reuters’ Cairo bureau the following day, on Friday, accusing it of “publishing false news using anonymous sources”.

A day earlier, the ministry issued a statement saying that a report published on the same day by Reuters, claiming that “the police had custody of Giulio Regeni as part of a general security sweep on the day he vanished”, was groundless.

In the ministry’s statement, its official media spokesman denied the information contained in the report, saying that “everything published in this regard is unfounded”.

Hours earlier, on Thursday morning, Reuters published a report citing six police and intelligence officials in support of the news agency’s claim that “Regeni was detained by police and then transferred to a National Security compound the day he vanished”.

According to the report, the six sources, who spoke to the agency on condition of anonymity, said that Regeni and an Egyptian who was picked up at the same time had not been specifically targeted but were detained as part of a general security sweep.

“Regeni was picked up by plainclothes police near the Gamal Abdel-Nasser metro station in Cairo on the evening of 25 January,” the sources told Reuters. Moreover, one of the intelligence officials added that the Regeni was taken to the Izbakiya police station where he was held for 30 minutes before being transferred to a National Security compound.

The Interior Ministry, in its statement, said it “holds the right to take the legal action against the propagators of these rumours and false news”.

“We stand by the story published on 21 April, 2016 regarding the detention of an Italian student, Giulio Regeni,” said David Crundwell, a senior vice-president at Thomson Reuters, according to the Guardian newspaper. “The story did not state who is responsible for his death, and is consistent with Reuters’ commitment to accurate and independent journalism.”

Crundwell added, “We cannot verify whether a complaint has been filed against Reuters regarding the story, as we have not received notice of any legal action.”

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; 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 haemorrhaging. It also noted signs of torture on the body, including cigarette burns, bruises and cuts.

The 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.

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

Last week’s report was not the first to point fingers at the Egyptian security services in the case of Regeni.

In March, Reuters quoted two prosecution sources who claimed that an Egyptian forensics official has told the public prosecutor’s office that the autopsy he conducted on the Italian student showed that he had been interrogated for up to seven days before he was killed.

The report concluded that the forensics 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 an 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 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.”

In response, in late February, the Interior Ministry issued another statement in which it said that some had insisted on “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 reply to a question at a press conference on the possibility that Regeni had been detained by the police, Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar said: “It never happened.”

He continued, “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.”

For weeks, Rome and Cairo have been engaged in a tense standoff. During an Egyptian judicial delegation’s visit to Rome, which started on 6 April, to brief the Italian authorities on the latest results of their investigation, Italy recalled its ambassador to Egypt for “consultations” over the lack of progress in the probe into Regeni’s brutal murder. Following the visit, the Italian Foreign Minister said that the Rome meeting between Italian and Egyptian prosecutors had not produced the required results.

However, Italian Senator Lucio Barani, of the Liberal Popular Alliance Bloc, and Senator Francesco Amoroso, the former president of the Euro-Mediterranean parliament, said, in an interview aired earlier this week that the Italian ambassador should return to Cairo soon. He was speaking with Mohamed Abul-Enein, the well-known Egyptian businessman and current honorary president of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliament, on Sada Al-Balad TV.

The European Parliament held a plenary session on 10 March to discuss human rights in Egypt. The parliament passed a resolution by an overwhelming majority recommending an EU-wide embargo on the export of any form of security equipment and military aid to Egypt and condemned continued security cooperation and arms deals between Egypt and EU member states, most notably France, Germany and the UK.

Barani and Amoroso also ruled out the possibility of the Egyptian government’s involvement in Regeni’s murder. “Regeni’s killers are both Egypt and Italy’s enemies,” said the two Italian lawmakers, during the interview, which was translated into Arabic, describing the murder as a “scheme” to spoil the Italian-Egyptian relationship.

“We believe that there are those who wanted to spoil the cultural, political and social relations, especially economic ones with Egypt,” said Italian Senator Barani. “The end they wanted for Regeni was unfortunate, but they have made it for political and economic goals. We, as the major party in Italy, see that the Egyptian government and president Al-Sisi are not involved in this case.”

 While Amoroso said: “We request from our friend, President Al-Sisi, and Egyptians to do their utmost to unveil the truth behind the incident, and we are sure that our Egyptian friends will show a strong commitment for our request.” Amoroso concluded by saying that Al-Sisi’s statements on Regeni’s case are going in the right direction.

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

While, in a meeting with a delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly earlier this month in Cairo, Al-Sisi stated that Egypt was committed to “full and transparent cooperation with Italy to reveal the truth and bring the perpetrators to justice.” He also expressed his confidence in the strong Egyptian-Italian relations, adding that these “individual incidents” will not affect this relationship. 

The two Italian lawmakers also said that they understoodd Egypt’s refusal of Italy’s request to deliver the Arabic phone records to the Italian side. They were referring to a request made by the Italian authorities during the Egyptian judicial delegation’s visit to Rome, headed by Deputy Public Prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman.

“The Italian authorities wanted access to the call log of a huge number of citizens, which could reach a million, who were around student Regeni’s house, the area in which he disappeared and the area where the police found his body,” Suleiman said in a press conference a fortnight ago in Cairo. “Egypt rejected the request, which violates the Egyptian constitution.”

The constitution, Suleiman insisted, prohibits tracking any forms of communication used by citizens who are not part of ongoing investigations.

Last weekend, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that Italy will continue inquiring into Italian researcher Regeni’s murder, according to ANSA.

“If someone thinks that we will stop demanding the truth in the Regeni murder with the passing of time, they are wrong,” Gentiloni said on Friday. He was speaking in response to questions about a Reuters report quoting anonymous police sources who confirmed that Regeni had been detained by Egyptian police prior to his death.

Also over the weekend, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the US believes questions raised about the circumstances of Regeni’s death “can only be answered through an impartial and a comprehensive inquiry”.

“We continue to call on the government of Egypt to ensure that the investigation is conducted in a full and transparent manner and to fully collaborate with the Italian officials who we know are part of that investigation,” Kirby said.

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