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Egypt. A gay Italian man living in Cairo was thrown in prison on fake charges last summer. A furtive phone call to the Italian Embassy helped ensure his freedom after 27 days in prison.

Giulio Regeni wasn’t the first Italian abducted by Egyptian police

Two policemen without uniforms or badges arrested an Italian man living in Cairo and attempted to frame him for selling “sexual encounters.” The man, D.G., was stopped July 6 on Doqqi Road, the same district where Giulio Regeni lived. They threw him into a five-by-five-meter cell along with 50 other inmates and held him there for 27 days. It was 21 days before he was even allowed to appear before a judge, and meanwhile he was forced to watch torture sessions in which other prisoners were beaten and slashed with knives.

D.G. came out alive only because, by a stroke of luck, an Italian-Egyptian prisoner had access to a cell phone and alerted the Italian Embassy through a relative. Now that he’s safely back in Italy, D.G., who is gay and had lived in Cairo since 2009, wrote about his terrible experience for Vice News (in Italian). He penned the account anonymously to protect acquaintances still in Egypt.

His account could be helpful as Italian investigators try to identify those who tortured and killed Regeni, the Italian doctoral student whose body was discovered in a ditch on Feb. 3. Autopsy reports so far point to a slow interrogation conducted by trained torturers.

So far, however, investigators have made only grinding progress because of the lack of cooperation from Egyptian authorities. On Monday, the prosecutor in Rome flew back to Cairo after his request for evidence — including reports and phone records, submitted to the Egyptians weeks ago — returned only some incomplete and practically useless documents.

But the Vice News article makes it urgent to establish whether the Italian government was already aware of other cases of abuse and torture of Italians in Egypt, long before Regeni’s death. In the article, D.G. describes how his phone call to the Italian Embassy “meant that my abduction was transformed into a formal arrest.” To D.G., that phone call was the difference between appearing before a judge (who threw out the case, saying there was no evidence against him) or languishing — or worse.

But the 27 days of arbitrary captivity were merciless. The stagnant air was thick with human waste and cigarette smoke, and the right to sleep was administered by the more senior prisoners. On several occasions, D.G. was taken to an adjacent cell and forced to watch the guards torture other inmates.

“Into the room, dragging his feet, came a young Egyptian stopped at a checkpoint who, like me, had made the mistake of forgetting his identity document,” D.G. wrote. “They struck him with various tools until one of the guards pulled a knife from his pocket and began to stab him in the legs. Once, twice, 10 times. The guy fainted. There was blood everywhere. The guards at first threw him back into the cell with us. We tore shirts to stop his wounds and prevent him from bleeding to death. Only the next morning did the agents pick him up and take him to a military hospital. The guy reappeared three days later in a wheelchair. Not only had he lost the use of his legs but also his voice.”

D.G. believes he was arrested to make an example of him. “Like Giulio, I think I was carefully chosen by the Egyptian authorities to be an example for others — I, a homosexual with a stable job and good reputation, and Giulio, a researcher at a prestigious university. We had to serve as a warning for Westerners, so that we respect certain unwritten rules, but especially for young Egyptians, without any possibility to defend themselves from the tyranny of an increasingly authoritarian government.”

D.G. was lucky. Regeni and many other young Egyptians were not.

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