Justice for Giulio: Italian ambassador recalled, but UK government stays silent

396disappeared_posterwobThe Italian ambassador to Egypt, Maurizio Massari, has been recalled to Rome for urgent consultations following the failure of a summit between the Italian and Egyptian teams investigating the torture and murder of Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni in Cairo earlier this year. Human rights activists and experts say that the torture Giulio suffered bears the hallmarks of methods commonly used by the Egyptian security services, but the Egyptian authorities have put forward other theories, claiming variously that he died in a car accident, or was killed in a crime of passion, or by a criminal gang. On 24 March the Egyptian police claimed to have shot dead four men who they said were part of a criminal gang which apparently specialised in kidnapping foreigners. These claims were rejected by the Italian authorities, by Giulio’s parents and by his academic colleagues. Italian prosecutors investigating Giulio’s murder stepped up pressure on their Egyptian counterparts to cooperate, calling on them to share with them information which might help show what happened to him, including mobile phone records and cctv footage. It was the failure of the Egyptian team to share this crucial evidence at the summit in Rome on 7 and 8 April, which prompted the recall of the Italian ambassador.

The Italian action to force the pace of the investigation into Giulio’s killing stands in stark contrast to the silence of the UK government. Although Giulio was a student at a British university, and a UK resident for ten years, there has been no official statement about the issue. UK Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, did raise Giulio’s case with Egyptian officials, but only after a campaign on Twitter condemned the government’s focus on business interests over human rights.

Paola and Claudio, Giulio’s parents, have also voiced their anger and frustration at the Egyptian authorities failure to investigate Giulio’s murder. At a at press conference in the Italian Senate on 29 March, Paola spoke of her pain at the sight of her son’s mutilated face, which she only recognized from the tip of his nose. “I just saw that they had poured all the evil in the world onto it. … He was no longer our Giulio.” She called on the Italian government to make a “strong response” if the summit between Italian prosecutors and Egyptian officials did not reveal the truth about Giulio’s death.

Giulio’s parents have been working closely with Amnesty International in Italy to campaign for justice for their son. Their campaign has won the support of universities, municipal councils, newspapers and trade unions, and has played a key role in keeping public pressure on the Italian government to take a firm line in its dealings with the Egyptian authorities.

In the UK, Giulio’s colleagues and friends have also been campaigning for justice. Around 600 current and former members of the University of Cambridge supported a 4,600-signature statement by academics and students from around the world calling for an independent investigation into all forced disappearances in Egypt. A petition to the UK parliament, calling on the British government to take action over Giulio’s death, has gathered nearly 9,000 signatures, of which over 1000 are from Cambridge.

Giulio’s case has also thrown a spotlight onto the wider issue of forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings in Egypt. On 3 April, Italian daily Corriere della Sera published the names of nearly 400 people who have disappeared in Egypt over the past 8 months while Amnesty International reported 88 cases of torture in Egypt since the beginning of the year. Meanwhile Egyptian NGOs which collect data on police abuses and provide counselling to torture victims, such as El Nadeem Center, are facing closure by the authorities.

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