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Egypt – Italy: Regeni trial opens despite absent Egyptian officers

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Thursday, 14 October 2021 19:38

Amnesty International activists stage a flash mob asking for truth on the death of Italian student Guido Regeni, in front of Milan's city hall, Italy, Sunday, April 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

At the opening of the trial of murdered Giulio Regeni, the Italian prosecutor argued for the hearing to continue despite the absence of the four main Egyptian suspects. The high-profile case of the Cambridge student found dead and tortured in Egypt's capital has remained a mystery as Egyptian officials have consistently denied involvement in the 28-year-old's murder.

Today in Italy, the trial begins for four security officers accused of torturing and killing Cambridge student Giulio Regeni.

The suspects could be tried in absentia, as they are yet to be found in Egypt and may not even know they have been charged.

The 28-year-old from Italy was found burned, beaten, and mutilated in an attack that left police confused about the intent of the murder. Regeni was discovered in January 2016 on the outskirts of Cairo, after previously going missing the week earlier. He had been researching Egypt’s independent trade union movement as part of his PhD.

According to Al Jazeera, Italian prosecutors say that Regeni was followed by the National Security Agency (NSA) for 40 days before his disappearance. They believe that the student came under scrutiny as he offered Mohammed Abdullah, leader of the street vendors’ union, help to apply for a 10,000-pound ($13,000) grant from a British non-governmental organisation.

One of five main witnesses, an NSA employee of 15 years, described seeing the Italian student inside an agency office with signs of torture.

The attack came during a spurt of disappearances in the country, sparking outrage in the public against the police.

Butting heads

Italian and Egyptian officials but heads after following different lines of enquiry. Italian prosecutors say that Major Magdi Sharif, from Egypt’s General Intelligence, Major General Tarek Sabir, the former head of state security, police Colonel Hisham Helmy and Colonel Ather Kamal, a former head of investigations in Cairo, were responsible for Regeni’s murder. However, Egyptian officials deny any involvement in the incident.

In March 2016, Egyptian authorities said security forces killed five gang members in a shoot-out – claiming they had some of the researcher’s belongings. But Italian officials dismissed the move as a cover-up.

The prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco today (14 October) suggested that Egyptian authorities have tampered with evidence, including a video from the metro station where Regeni vanished, which shows a 20-minute blip during the time he was there. It also appears that Egyptian investigators ignored 39 out of 64 separate requests for information.

He added that the four main suspects not only knew about the trial but had “systematically and persistently acted to slow and block the investigation”.

Trial in absentia

Regeni’s parents, who were present during the trial, have been critical of Italian officials who have continued trade with Egypt, despite public criticism of the country’s human right’s record.

In September, an Italian parliamentary delegation travelled to Cambridge to discuss Regni’s thesis with course supervisors and other members of the university, who had shown their willingness to cooperate.

As the trial continues, Italian prosecutors will present their case in the bunker room of the Rebibbia prison against three members of Egypt’s National Security Agency (NSA), and one officer of Cairo’s investigative police force.

A trial can proceed without the suspect’s presence if enough evidence shows Italian authorities did everything possible to notify them of the charges.

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