Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1379, (1 -7 February 2018)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1379, (1 -7 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Regeni case remembered 

The name of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni is back in the spotlight two years after his yet unresolved death, reports Ahmed Morsy

“Italy will not stop trying to get to the bottom of Regeni’s death,” Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni wrote on Twitter on the second anniversary of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni’s disappearance. “Italy has not forgotten, two years after the horrible murder of Giulio Regeni,” said Gentiloni. “The commitment to seek the truth continues.”

Regeni, 28, a 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 two years ago on the fifth anniversary of the 2011 January Revolution. His body was found on 3 February 2016 on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road after he went missing nine days earlier. Egypt’s ongoing investigation into Regeni’s gruesome death has yet to identify his killers. 

Commemorating the second anniversary of Regeni’s murder, Rome’s Chief Prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone publicly discussed for the first time the results of the joint Italian-Egyptian investigation in an article published last week in two of Italy’s major daily newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica.

Pignatone, who oversees the Italian probe said that the motive for the murder was linked to “the research activity Giulio conducted during the months of his stay in Cairo”.

Early in January Italian investigators obtained the computer and mobile phone of a Cambridge University lecturer, Maha Abdel-Rahman, Regeni’s tutor, to find out how he chose his research subject and whether anyone put him in harm’s way. La Repubblica had implied in November that Abdel-Rahman had commissioned Regeni to research a topic she knew was dangerous and one he was reluctant to pursue. She was quoted by the media as saying Regeni had freely chosen his PhD research topic.

In its 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. An autopsy conducted following the body’s repatriation to Rome revealed what Italian Minister of Interior Angelino Alfano called “inhuman, animal-like” violence.

Though Pignatone said in his article that Egyptian officials were being cooperative throughout the joint investigations, he revealed that the investigations faced some difficulties because his team was unable to attend the questioning of suspects by Egyptian investigators.

The Italian prosecutor also said that “some people that Regeni met during his research had betrayed him,” without giving more details. Pignatone was seemingly referring to the chairman of the Cairo Street Vendors Union, who according to the Italian media secretly filmed Regeni in downtown Cairo’s Ahmed Helmi Square using a shirt-button micro-camera provided by the police. The video was leaked a year ago.

A three-and-a-half-minute leaked video went viral on social media hours after being aired by state TV on 23 January 2017, showing Regeni speaking to a representative of the Cairo Street Vendors Union days before his disappearance in January 2016. In the dimly lit video, the representative persistently asks Regeni to provide him with money for personal reasons. “My wife has cancer and needs to have surgery. I’ll do anything as long as it involves money,” he says in Arabic while Regeni replies: “The money is not mine... I’m an academic researcher. I cannot submit a funding application to the British foundation saying I want the money for personal reasons. If this happened it’d be a very big problem for me as an academic.”

Later in the video the person recording the video asked whether funds can be used for “political purposes”. “Are we going to use the funding for kiosks for street vendors or are we going to use it for projects related to freedom?” he asks. Regeni responds by saying: “money for political purposes is difficult... I am a foreigner conducting academic research in Egypt and the only way the union will get money is through official channels.”

Since Regeni’s murder Rome and Cairo have been engaged in a tense stand-off. Tensions between the two countries escalated when Italy recalled its ambassador in 2016 to protest against the lack of progress in the Regeni probe. However, relations were restored in August when Rome said it would return its ambassador to Cairo and continue to search for Regeni’s killers.

Conflicting initial statements issued by security sources in Cairo in 2016 about how Regeni died have been met with incredulity in Italy and motivated Italian and foreign media to accuse elements of the Egyptian security services of being behind Regini’s murder. The Interior Ministry has repeatedly denied that security forces were responsible for his death.

Two months following Regeni’s disappearance, 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 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 at the time, 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 murder had been killed in the shootout and confirmed that the investigation into Regeni’s death was continuing.

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