Murder of Giulio Regeni
|Disappeared||25 January 2016 (aged 28)|
|Cause of death||Torture murder|
|Body discovered||3 February 2016|
|Alma mater||Cambridge University|
Giulio Regeni (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒuːljo reˈdʒɛːni]; 15 January 1988 – 25 January 2016) was an Italian Cambridge University graduate who was abducted and tortured to death in Egypt. Regeni was a PhD student at Girton College, Cambridge, researching Egypt's independent trade unions, as well as a former employee of the international consulting firm Oxford Analytica. He grew up in Fiumicello, a former comune (now Fiumicello Villa Vicentina) in the province of Udine in Northeastern Italy.
Discovery of the body
Regeni's mutilated and half-naked corpse was found in a ditch alongside the Cairo-Alexandria highway on the outskirts of Cairo on February 3, 2016. His recovered body showed signs of extreme torture: contusions and abrasions all over from a severe beating; extensive bruising from kicks, punches, and assault with a stick; more than two dozen bone fractures, among them seven broken ribs, all fingers and toes, as well as legs, arms, and shoulder blades; multiple stab wounds on the body including the soles of the feet, possibly from an ice pick or awl-like instrument; numerous cuts over the entire body made with a sharp instrument suspected to be a razor; extensive cigarette burns; a larger burn mark between the shoulder blades made with a hard and hot object; a brain hemorrhage; and a broken Cervical vertebrae, which ultimately caused death.
Italian and Egyptian officials conducted separate autopsies on Regeni's corpse with an Egyptian forensic official reporting on March 1, 2016, that he was interrogated and tortured for up to seven days at intervals of 10–14 hours before he was finally killed. The Egyptian autopsy findings have still not been made public. A 300-page report of the Italian autopsy findings has been handed over to the public prosecutor's office in Rome and denies earlier reports of signs of electric shocks administered to Regeni's genitals.
On March 24, 2016, Egyptian police killed in a shoot out four men who were allegedly responsible for kidnapping Regeni. According to a Facebook post from the official page of the Ministry of the Interior, the gang specialized in kidnapping foreigners and stealing their money. In a raid on the flat of one of the gang members, the Egyptian police claim they found various items that belonged to Regeni including his passport and student photo IDs. However, witnesses told Declan Walsh and other journalists that the "gang" members had been executed, not shot while riding in the van: "One was shot as he ran, his corpse later positioned inside the van". Their link to Regeni was also suspect: "Italian investigators used phone records to show that the supposed gang leader, Tarek Abdel Fattah, was 60 miles north of Cairo the day he supposedly kidnapped Regeni", according to Declan Walsh. The New Cairo prosecutor's office later denied that the criminal gang was involved in his murder.
Regeni's passport and the other documents were handed over to Italian prosecutors on November 1, same year, during a "positive" meeting in Cairo.
On June 8, 2016, Italian news agency ANSA reported that Regeni's tutors at Cambridge University had declined to collaborate with the inquest into his murder, to the disappointment of investigators and Regeni's family. This had been anticipated by coverage in the Italian weekly L'Espresso on June 7, 2016, which reported that Regeni's tutor Maha Abdelrahman had followed advice from University lawyers not to collaborate with the inquest. The University of Cambridge strongly rejected the claims in a statement released to Varsity, the Cambridge student newspaper. Despite commitment on behalf of Cambridge University, as of early December 2017, British authorities had denied requests by the Italian prosecutors concerning the interrogation of specific individuals in Britain; on a similar note, Abdelrahman had refused to speak to the Italian prosecutor. Such British inaction in the aftermath of the incident would be later described by Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner as "lack of tenacity". Following the controversy that played out in the media, Abdelrahman eventually accepted to be questioned by Italian authorities and received praises from the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs for having chosen to cooperate.
Accusations against the Egyptian government
Due to Regeni's research activities and left-wing political leanings, the Egyptian police is strongly suspected of involvement in his murder in Egypt, although Egypt's media and government deny this, alleging secret undercover agents belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt carried out the crime in order to embarrass the Egyptian government and destabilize relations between Italy and Egypt.
On April 21, 2016, Reuters reported three Egyptian intelligence officials and three police sources independently claiming Regeni was in police custody at some time before his death. According to these sources he was picked up by plainclothes police officers near Gamal Abdel Nasser metro station together with another Egyptian man on the evening of January 25. Both men were then taken in a white minibus with police license plates to Izbakiya police station in downtown Cairo.
Shadowing foreigners were later dismissed by a Homeland Security official and the Interior Ministry as day-to-day work bearing no implications, and Egyptian general prosecutor Nabeel Sadek confirmed that Cairo police had received a report on Giulio Regeni on January 7, 2016, and that the Egyptian National Security Agency had been monitoring Regeni.
On December 7, 2016, a joint statement of Egyptian and Italian prosecutors, released following a two-day summit in Rome, stated that Egyptian prosecutors had questioned the policemen who investigated Regeni's death in January, as well as those who killed the four gang members in March.
On August 15, 2017, journalist Declan Walsh collected in a New York Times article the statement of an anonymous Obama administration official who revealed that, in the weeks after Regeni's death, the United States acquired "explosive proof that Egyptian security officials had abducted, tortured and killed Regeni" and that "Egypt's leadership was fully aware of the [death] circumstances".
Walsh writes that Italian investigators working in Egypt "were hindered at every turn. Witnesses appeared to have been coached. Surveillance footage from the subway station near Regeni’s apartment had been deleted; requests for metadata from millions of phone calls were refused on the grounds that it would compromise the constitutional rights of Egyptian citizens."
After the article, the Italian government denied that the Americans provided any actionable proof; AISE told the hint from the USA was of little benefit, since it came when the autopsy and investigation had already persuaded Italian investigators of Egypt's involvement, and Americans refused to reveal anything more specific, like names of involved people or institutions.
On December 21, 2017, the Italian investigators led by Giuseppe Pignatone flew to Cairo to meet the Egyptian prosecutor Nabel Sadek and his team. The Egyptian team submitted new reports, including the progress on the recovery of surveillance cameras footage. The Italians had carefully examined and cross linked all the evidence available to them until then, and provided a detailed explanation for the facts.
For kidnapping, they reiterated and pinpointed the allegations against major Magdi Ibrqaim Abdlaal Sharif, captain Osan Helmy, and three other people of Egyptian National Security Agency. For red herring, which included the killings on March 24, 2016, they blamed captain Mahmud Hendy and other people of the local police.
A witness emerged in May 2019, telling he was in a café in an African capital city in 2017, where he heard Egyptian officers discussing the case of "the Italian guy". After eavesdropping an exchange of business cards, he recognized that the officer who claimed to have been personally involved in kidnapping and beating Giulio Regeni was in fact Major Magdy Ibrquaim Abdelaal Sharif. According to the account, they believed Regeni was a British spy. The Italian investigators heard the witness and accredited his reconstruction of the events with some reliability. In fact, the Major was already among the suspects.
Reactions of the international community
The gruesome torture and murder of Giulio Regeni sparked global outrage, with more than 4,600 academics signing a petition calling for an investigation into his death and into the many disappearances that take place in Egypt each month, while on February 24, 2016, Amnesty International Italy launched a campaign "Verità per Giulio Regeni" (Truth about Giulio Regeni). UK Parliament petition No. 120832 was created by Hannah Waddilove, a former Giulio Regeni's colleague at Oxford Analytica, in February 2016. UK involvement was solicited on the rationale that freedom of thought, expression, and press are not meaningful if they cannot be backed by freedom of research. Hence active steps were expected from the U.K. in order to protect operations carried out by personnel belonging to its universities. The petition reached 10,000 signatures next April, the Parliament renewed their offer of assistance. An online petition was also started on Change.org that received more than 100,000 signatures.
On March 10, 2016, the European Parliament in Strasbourg passed a motion for a resolution condemning the torture and killing of Giulio Regeni and the ongoing human rights abuses of the al-Sisi government in Egypt. The resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority.
In April 2016, Italy recalled its ambassador to Egypt due to a lack of co-operation, during the investigation, from the Egyptian authorities.
In May 2016, Italian weekly magazine L'Espresso set up a secure platform based on GlobaLeaks technology to collect testimonials about torture and human rights abuse from Egyptian whistleblowers – and to seek justice for Giulio Regeni and for every Regeni in Egypt.
On 1 May 2017, Pope Francis confirmed that the Vatican is taking steps to investigate the situation: "The Holy See has taken some steps. I will not say how or where, but we have taken some steps".
Since in 2016 al-Sisi had promised Giulio's parents his personal involvement to establish the truth on the murder of their son, three years after, Paola and Claudio Regeni published a hard reply. "We cannot be satisfied by your condolences anymore, nor by your failed promises", they said.
- Academic Freedom in the Middle East
- Ibrahim Metwaly
- List of solved missing persons cases
- List of unsolved murders
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- Upping the Pressure on Egypt
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