Formal indictments were leveled against the four Egyptian officials involved in the abduction and murder of Giulio Regeni in 2016.
The death of a doctoral student in 2016 sparked a diplomatic tussle between Cairo and Rome. Giulio Regeni was abducted by members of the National Security Agency. The charges were formally levied against Capt Uhsam Helmi, Tariq Saber, Maj Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif, and Athar Kamel Mohamed Ibrahim.
Prosecutors decided to drop charges against Mahmoud Najem who was previously considered as one of the suspects. The body of Mr. Regeni was discovered on the outskirts of Cairo bearing marks of physical injury - a sign of sustained torture while at the hands of the Egyptian security agencies.
Ever since the incident, Italy has accused Egyptian officials of frustrating the country’s efforts to investigate the matter. They are deliberately slow-walking the process when requested for material evidence while lumping the blame of Regeni’s murder on gang-related activity.
The charges levied against Egypt’s National Security Agency is a rare moment of accountability faced by the Egyptian security forces and the manner in which it conducts its activities.
In late November, Egypt’s public prosecution suspended their own investigations into the matter. In a part of the address, they concluded that the murder of the engineering student remains unknown. The investigation alleged no signs of “consistence evidence” and “no connection to any official institutions”.
Rome withdrew her Egyptian ambassador in 2016 before appointing a new one a year later. The lower house of Italy’s parliament also cut ties with their Egyptian counterparts in 2017. Despite the hostilities, other arms of the Egyptian government have maintained continued to cooperate, for instance, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte approved a large arms sale to Egypt after several months of backdoor negotiations.
Mr. Regeni’s parents held a press conference on Thursday where they castigated the Italian government for inaction, demanding a recall of the country’s ambassador immediately. Paola Defendi, the mother to Regeni argued that Egypt should be labeled an “unsafe country”.
Meanwhile, Italian prosecutors have continued to supply more information on the gruesome death of Regeni. The 28-year-old was investigating labor movements while in Egypt and it remains unclear as to why he was abducted. Prosecutors are also pursuing information on 13 other individuals - despite little cooperation from Egyptian authorities. Two witnesses referred to as Epsilon and Delta gave counts of seeing Regeni held up in two Egyptian security facilities. It is believed that the torture took part in Lazoughly, a facility run by the Egyptian interior ministry and primarily used by the country’s National Security Agency. Eyewitnesses who saw him at that point describe him as semi-naked with signs of body torture.
Also read: Italy reinstates ambassador in Cairo
For a long time now, it has been impossible to demand answers from the Egyptian security forces. Officers of the elite security agencies have enjoyed immunity for any crimes committed against citizens.
Last year, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms who serve as the legal team of Regeni’s family in Egypt, reported that 2,72 people had forcibly “disappeared” across the country - with all indications pointing to the security apparatus. Forced disappearances resulted in citizens being arbitrarily detained and denied access to a lawyer or their families. This was often accompanied by incidences of torture.
A lot of new details on the abduction and torture is expected as the trial proceeds. Many expect the relations between the two nations to worsen further. Increased pressure on the Italian government to compel the Egyptian authorities to comply with the trial can only be expected. The four suspects are to be tried in absentia regardless.
Ph: Stefano Guidi / Shutterstock.com