“As long as this barbarism remains unpunished, until all those who are guilty, regardless of their position, are brought to justice in Italy, no one in the world can stay in your country and feel safe.” – Paulo and Claudio Regeni to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Paulo and Claudio Regeni, parents of Giulio Regeni, Italian doctoral student murdered in Egypt in 2016 are demanding the withdrawal of Italy’s ambassador to Cairo for a second time over what they say is Egyptian intimidation of their lawyers in an effort to prevent an investigation into their son’s death. “Enough is enough. The withdrawal of the Italian ambassador from Cairo can no longer be postponed,” the Regeni’s said in a joint statement with their lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini, according to a report by the Guardian.
Italy first recalled its ambassador in April 2016 in response to Egypt’s unwillingness to investigate the murder of 28-year-old Regeni. Regeni’s badly battered body was found on the outskirts of Cairo on February 3 2016. He was conducting research on independent trade unions, a very sensitive subject in Egypt when he suddenly disappeared on the 25th of January 2016 – the fifth anniversary of the Egyptian uprising.
Initial investigations and reports incriminated the Egyptian security forces, especially after “credible witnesses” in Cairo said they saw the 28-year-old being arrested by plainclothes policemen on January 25, the same day that he was reported missing. Egyptian authorities debunked these claims despite “unequivocal marks of torture” found on Regeni’s body.
Italy’s ambassador returned to Egypt in August 2017 in an effort to reinforce judicial cooperation and the search for the truth, but no progress has been made on the investigation since then. Instead, the Egyptian authorities are frustrating the investigation and intimidating members of Paulo and Claudio‘s legal team in the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), acts the Regeni’s describe as “outrageous and disturbing” in their recently released statement.
The ECRF tracks enforced disappearances and some of their employees act as Egyptian legal counsel for the Regeni’s.
Maha Ahmed, an employee of the ECRF is currently under investigation by the Egyptian authorities and risks imprisonment. Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, an ECRF researcher was forcibly disappeared earlier this month. Another lawyer in the ECRF, Haitham Mohamedeen was arrested by a team headed by Sherif Magdy Abdel Al, an Egyptian National Security Agency official named by Italian prosecutors as suspects in Regeni’s disappearance.
Mohammed Lotfy, the executive director of ECRF believes the Egyptian authorities are seeking to prevent the ECRF from working on the Regeni case by intimidating its members. “I think the message is clear: take your hands off the case or else you’ll get hurt,” said Lotfy. Lotfy believes that the Egyptian authorities are afraid Regeni’s case could reveal the widespread practice of systemic enforced disappearances in the country, where individuals are arrested without legal representation or access to their families.
The ECRF documented 230 cases of enforced disappearances between August 2017 and September 2018. According to Geneva-based human rights defense organization, Committee for Justice, the number of enforced disappearances in Egypt reached 1,989 cases from August 2017 to August 2018. “The authorities say there are no enforced disappearances in Egypt, yet while we are working on the case of a forcibly disappeared Italian researcher in Egypt, they forcibly disappear one of our staff members working on one of the most important cases,” Lotfy said. “They’re unafraid of public opinion. They want the world to believe what cannot be believed.”
In a show of solidarity with the Regeni’s last week, Roberto Fico, the President of the Italian parliament stated on Facebook, “Giulio’s parents will not be alone. Next week we will talk about Giulio with the German Bundestag: Giulio was not in fact just an Italian researcher, but a European one. It is a matter that concerns and must concern all the countries of the union.”