Embassy protest highlights lack of progress in Giulio Regeni case

Dr Sarah Brown from UCU’s national executive (r), reads out a statement at the Egyptian embassy – picture: Simone Theiss

Campaigners from Amnesty International and UCU gathered at the Egyptian embassy in London on 23 September to highlight the lack of progress in finding the perpetrators of the January 2016 murder and torture of Cambridge University graduate student Giulio Regeni amid continuing attacks on human rights activists in Egypt. The protest follows on from a postcard campaign mobilising UCU and Amnesty activists across the country calling for truth for Giulio and justice for the hundreds of Egyptian citizens who have been ‘disappeared’ by the security forces, often facing torture, followed by sham trials and unjust jail sentences. There has also been a nation-wide series of public meetings organised to mark the anniversary of Giulio’s murder, where students and academics heard from Amnesty campaigners, journalists and academics about the on-going threats to academic freedom and freedom of expression in Egypt.

Dr Sarah Brown from UCU’s national executive committee joined the protest.

This appalling murder represented a blow to academic freedom,” she said. “Egypt continues to tighten restrictions on its universities.  The state is interfering in academics’ ability to travel abroad, increasing control over the appointment of university leaders, and expelling students because of their political activism. UCU, together with Amnesty International and Egypt Solidarity, will continue to campaign for justice for Giulio Regeni, and for all of Egypt’s Disappeared, and call for an end to the torture in Egypt.”

In a statement read out at the embassy, Dr Waseem Yaqoob of Cambridge UCU branch highlighted the large numbers of Giulio’s colleagues who have been involved in the battle for justice:

We have signed an Open Letter demanding a full investigation, joined a delegation to this Embassy to press our concerns, and worked with the city branch of Amnesty International to run rallies, stalls and public meetings in Cambridge. Awareness has been spread not only of Giulio’s case, but of the threat to academic freedom in Egypt and the plight of thousands of other victims of enforced disappearance”

Even those campaigning against enforced disappearances are not safe in Egypt today, he noted, commenting on the news that the Ibrahim Metwally, a human rights lawyer investigating Giulio Regeni’s case and many other similar cases, was arrested by the Egyptian authorities recently while en route to an international conference on the role of the state in enforced disappearances.

Dr Glen Rangwala from the Department of Politics and International Studies also paid tribute to Giulio in a statement.

Ten minutes with Giulio, in any context under the sun, would leave you with two abiding impressions. The first was that Giulio loved having fun. Singing, dancing, joking around – if it wasn’t happening already, Giulio would start doing it. The second was that his commitment to social justice was so deeply ingrained in everything he did that it made the very possibility of doing something unjust, cruel or inconsiderate around him seem not just wrong, but absurd. He engaged with everyone on the basis that they deserved respect, that they had interesting stories to share, that they too loved having fun. There is perhaps no better defence of human rights than that attitude, which Giulio carried with him wherever he went.”

The protest delegation en route to the Egyptian embassy – picture: Egypt Solidarity Initiative

The Egyptian embassy protest was part of an event organised by Amnesty to highlight threats to human rights defenders. In addition to Giulio’s case, the protest at the Egyptian embassy focused on the persecution of Azza Soliman, a well-known lawyer and women’s rights activist by the Egyptian authorities. Activists also visited the embassies of Chile, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Finland and Bahrain to condemn attacks on human rights defenders and environmental activists in those countries.