Cairo says it has closed an investigation into the 2016 murder of the Italian student, but Rome is set to prosecute five Egyptian security officials in absentia.
Egypt says it has temporarily suspended the investigation into the abduction and murder of the Italian student, Giulio Regeni, without arresting anyone in a case which has strained Cairo’s ties with Rome.
The 28-year-old postgraduate researcher from the University of Cambridge went missing in February 2016. His tortured and mutilated body was found nine days later in a ditch next to a road outside Cairo.
“I only recognised him by the tip of his nose. As for everything else, it was not our Giulio,” Regeni’s mother had said after seeing the badly disfigured body for the first time.
Regeni was studying Egypt’s labour unions when he went missing. His case has shone a spotlight on the worsening human rights situation under the regime of President Abdel Fattah el Sisi.
Family members and activists have mounted a sustained campaign over the years for the culprits to face punishment. They blame Egypt’s notorious security service, known for using torture against political opponents, for Regeni’s murder.
Cairo has denied any official hand and instead put forward different theories including the possibility of a theft attempt that went wrong.
In a statement, Egypt’s public prosecutor said the case was being temporarily closed while the killer remains “unknown”.
“The Egyptian Public Prosecution announces that it has found firm evidence that gang members committed the robbery against the victim, as his belongings were found at the residence of one of the gang members, and the testimonies of some witnesses supported this,” it said.
Although the authorities identified the purported gang, they did not share any evidence linking it to Regeni’s killing.
On the other hand, Italian prosecutors are preparing to charge five Egyptian security officials including a major, Magdy Ibrquaim Abdelaal Sharif.
Since Cairo says there is a lack of evidence with which to prosecute any of its officials, the trial in Italy is expected to be held in absentia.
Italian newspapers reported late last month that investigators in Rome have testimonies from witnesses who say that Regeni was whisked away by Egypt’s National Security Agency agents to two police barracks.
More details are sure to surface once the trial starts. But just the evidence collected after Regeni’s autopsy had indicated that his killing could not be the result of a scuffle during the theft.
Someone broke his wrist, toes, fingers, teeth and then his neck, which caused his death. His initials were carved into his badly burned and bruised skin – a kind of mutilation attributed to the Egyptian security officials, according to The Times.
Throughout, Egyptian officials have tried to throw the investigation off track by offering different explanations – at times saying it was a car accident and at others, that it was a love affair gone wrong.
Italian investigators have debunked these theories.
“In these five years, we are overcome with indignation by the countless injustices on the part of the Egyptian authorities. They kidnapped, tortured and murdered a son, they sullied his reputation and discredited him, they lied and cheated not only us, his parents, but all Italians,” Regeni’s family said in a statement.
Human rights groups have repeatedly voiced concern about the conduct of the Egyptian security apparatus. At least 57 people were executed by Egyptian authorities in November and October alone. That’s more than 32 executed throughout 2019, says Amnesty International.
“These executions are particularly appalling given the well documented and systematic breaches of fair trial rights in Egypt, with courts often relying on torture-tainted ‘confessions’,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East advocacy director in a statement.
The Egyptian government is accused of arresting thousands of political and civil rights activists on fabricated charges.
While American and European lawmakers have condemned human rights violations, their governments continue to back Sisi, a former military commander who came to power in a coup in 2013.
Earlier this year, Italy approved the sale of two frigates to Egypt in a $1.35 billion deal.