A joint statement released on November 30, 2020, summarizes the future steps the Egyptian Public Prosecution and Italy’s Public Prosecution in Rome have decided to take regarding the case of Giulio Regeni, a former Cambridge student whose body was found in Cairo, Egypt on February 6, 2016. Egypt’s prosecution team announced that they will “temporarily close the investigation,” while Italy’s team plans to bring in five Egyptian suspects who are presumed to have taken part in Regeni’s torture and death.
In 2016, Regeni’s body was found on the side of Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, ten days after the 28-year-old went missing. His body bore signs of torture and beating, and he is widely believed by Italian investigators to have been abducted by Egyptian security services due to his studies on Egypt’s independent labour unions. Egypt’s former State Security Investigations agency has been noted in the past to engage in torturous methods and the agency’s associating members are alleged to have intentionally tracked down the student because of his research. These claims have been widely disagreed on by Egyptian officials, and Egypt rejects all accusations of government officials taking part in his murder.
The joint statement specifies, “The Egyptian public prosecution affirms that the perpetrator of the murder of the Italian student is still unknown,” contrary to Italy’s beliefs. Shortly after Regeni’s death, the Human Rights Watch’s deputy for the Middle East, Joe Stork, addressed in a statement the idea of the student’s death being correlated to his studies, “Egypt’s government is ignoring the basic right of workers to organize independently … The government seems intent on stifling the freedom Egypt’s labour movement only gained after years of struggle that culminated in the 2011 uprising.”
Likewise, the non-governmental organization, the Italian Association for Responsible Tourism, spoke in their own statement about the decision to suspend travel activities after Regeni’s death, “Egypt is a wonderful country that offers cultural attractions, [but a vacation] is not possible in the context of pain and indignation.” In another statement, The European Parliament also hinted at the event being a result of Egypt’s human rights situation, “…suspension of any form of security cooperation and assistance with Egyptian authorities, as long as its security apparatus continues to fuel radicalism and violent extremism through its systematic violations committed in full-impunity.”
In 2011, Egypt was met with multiple demonstrations, especially in the city of Cairo. The uprising was triggered by the rise in protests in Arab countries and subsequently led to the former long-standing president, Hosni Mubarak, stepping down from power in the same year. After this ousting, Egypt saw a transition towards having elected governmental officials and a new rewritten constitution in 2014. This transition emphasized the demand for “free and fair elections” to run the country and its union boards.
However, despite the surge of independent trade unions afterwards, none of these unions have been legally recognized by the government. Progress made to legalize freedom within Egypt’s trade and labour sectors has been shown to have taken steps backward, as on March 1, 2016, the Interior Ministry instead declared the choice to no longer accept these documents issues by independent unions. Underneath this, there is a clear constraint on human rights within the country, and a need to have future laws and policies address those controls.
Notably, Regeni’s disappearance occurred on the fifth anniversary of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, which may have led to political tensions running high in Cairo, contributing to Regeni’s death. Egyptian prosecutors strongly suspected gang members who lived in the city of Qalioubiya as being the murderers. Regeni’s passport and other materials were found in one member’s apartment. Police forces were dispatched to arrest these members, but during this operation, four of the five members were gunned down.
Shortly after, these suspects were proven to not be guilty. Right after Regeni’s death, strong diplomatic tension between Egypt and Italy arose, mainly because of the lack of assistance from Cairo to provide much evidence for the case, and the suspicions of the alleged security forces being government-affiliated. Due to the incident, Cairo’s Italian Ambassador was recalled from Egypt’s capital but was brought back in August 2017 to improve the two country’s weakened relations.
Moving forward, the five security forces suspected of being responsible for Regeni’s case will be tried soon. Italy’s Public Prosecution in Rome also announced the conclusion of the case in October 2020 because of the lack of progress in the investigation’s findings. There is a clear call for implementing safety measures for people in Egypt. In order to bring justice to Regeni’s story, steps must be taken to address the tension and hostility when it comes to the country’s freedom of expression and civil rights.
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