Campaigners, family and friends of murdered Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni took to the streets on the third anniversary of his death to demand justice for all of the thousands of people who have suffered forced disappearance and torture at the hands the security forces in Egypt. Giulio vanished in Cairo on 25 January 2016 while carrying out fieldwork for his PhD. His mutilated body was found on 2 February, bearing marks of torture. An investigation led by the judiciary in Giulio’s home country of Italy has named 5 members of the Egyptian security forces as suspects in his kidnapping and murder.
At the exact time of the last known communication from Giulio, 6.41 pm on 25 January, thousands gathered in around 100 cities across Italy and in Cambridge, in vigils organised by Amnesty International. In a message which was read out at the vigils in Italy and in Cambridge, Giulio’s parents thanked participants for continuing to mobilise to demand truth and justice.
“We feel the solidarity energy that surrounds us and that really help us, an energy that does not forget Giulio and all the evil he suffered, like the many other victims in the world. We do not give up, neither for Giulio nor for all the Giulio and Giulia of Egypt. We continue to ask to know strongly and consistently: whoever was, why he killed Giulio. Only discovering these truths, justice will be done; for him and for all those who violently suffered for their human rights in body and in ideas.”
The UCU union, which represents academic and academic-related staff in Higher and Further Education co-organised the UK-based campaign events with Amnesty. Vicky Knight, the union’s national president, spoke at a further protest on 2 February outside the Egyptian embassy in London where friends of Giulio, UCU and Amnesty members gathered to hear speeches and poems and hand in a letter of protest.
“Over the past three years UCU has worked with our members and with Amnesty to highlight Giulio’s case – and that of Egyptians who have suffered similar crimes. Meetings have been held on campus, online petitions have been signed and protests and vigils organised. And we will continue to shine a spotlight on the Egyptian regime – as we are doing today – until justice is served.
But we must also challenge and criticise our own government who shamefully are one of the main apologists for the Sisi regime as well as the Bharani, Saudi and Yemeni regimes to name but a few. It’s a disgrace that UK arms sales to Egypt and elsewhere continue to rise while human rights abuses multiply.”
The UCU branch in Cambridge worked with Amnesty activists to organise a seminar on 4 February which focussed on taking the campaign forward by linking up with UCU branches which are challenging university managers who want to do deals with the Sisi regime in order to open international branch campuses in Egypt, despite ongoing abuses of human rights and violations of academic freedoms.
The seminar was addressed by former political prisoner Dr Taher Mokhtar, who was targeted by the regime after playing a leading role in campaigns over abuse and medical neglect of detainees. Taher described how he was also arrested in the annual security crackdown around the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution.
After I was arrested, I was held in a tiny cell along with 30 other detainees, 28 of whom had suffered forced disappearance and torture with the aim of making them “confess” to crimes.”
State prosecutors in Egypt are often complicit in torture, Taher explained. It is common for detainees to appear before prosecutors showing signs of torture along with a “confession” only to be told that unless they confirm the statement made under duress they would be returned to the custody of state security.
Jo McNeill, President of Liverpool University UCU spoke about how a determined campaign led by her branch in collaboration with Cambridge UCU and Egypt Solidarity Initiative, had forced management to back away from plans to open an international branch campus in Egypt.
Our VC signed a memorandum of understanding which would allow ore collaborative research with Egyptian academics – which we all support – but worryingly went on to agree to greater mobility to Egypt for our staff and students and the potential to open a UoL campus in Egypt. At the University of Liverpool we stood up when a campus in Egypt was suggested. We knew what had happened to Giulio Regeni and we were highly concerned that profit, as opposed to the guaranteed safety of our staff and students, was at the heart of this deal. We contacted UCU colleagues at the University of Cambridge and worked with them to expose our concerns in the press. An open letter generated around 200 signatures from senior academics and others in a very short period of time. The letter was published in The Guardian. Fortunately, after this level of publicity from our campaign, the University of Liverpool have decided not to go ahead with an Egyptian campus.”
Other UK universities are pressing ahead with plans to open a campus in Egypt, however. Coventry University announced it is partnering with El Sewedy Education to open a branch campus in the New Administrative Capital.
Jo urged UCU activists in universities where there are plans to open up Egypt campuses to consider launching campaigns similar to the one in Liverpool. “Collective campaigning works,” she said, “we do not want genuine, collaborative research with our Egyptian colleagues to end, if anything we need to work with them more to ensure their voices are heard outside of their own country. We also know some research requires fieldwork in Egypt and that should be possible too. The main focus of the ‘Truth for Giulio Regeni’ campaign is to keep a spotlight on the atrocities that take place and to ensure we are pushing institutions into developing additional safety measures for anyone who has to visit Egypt as part of their work/research.”
What you can do:
- Get in touch with Jo and Liverpool University UCU branch directly. Read more on Jo’s blog here.
- Find out more about the Truth for Giulio campaign on Amnesty’s website