Egyptian investigators say Giulio Regeni was tortured and killed between 14 and 10 hours before his body was discovered, on Feb. 3 in a Cairo gutter, eight days after he disappeared. Speaking to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Hossam Nassar, the deputy public prosecutor, also indicated that the friends of the Cambridge University doctoral candidate may offer clues as to the motivation for his capture and murder.
The idea that Regeni was killed quickly in the hours before he was found contrasts with Egyptian authorities initial reports that he suffered a “slow death.” Asked about the discrepancy, Nassar said only that “this is what the coroner tells us.”
Nassar — the right-hand man of Giza public prosecutor Ahmed Nagy, who first confirmed evidence of torture on Regeni’s body — said it will be important to investigate Regeni’s network of friends, starting with those researching independent Egyptian unions, and especially the tax collectors unions. In Egypt, the military regime might consider a foreigner interested in such topics an enemy of the state. University of Toronto researcher Jean Lachapelle, in an article published by The Washington Post on Tuesday, furthers the hypothesis:
It is possible that Regeni’s research activities were misinterpreted as groundwork for preparing a new uprising. He had built ties with local actors, attended meetings with labor activists and spoke excellent Arabic — an essential skill for a researcher, yet one that unfortunately tends to raise suspicions.
Egyptian authorities have always blamed foreigners for masterminding the 2011 revolution. Since then, the media have sown distrust to the point that many Egyptians fear every foreigner is a spy. This sentiment peaked during the 2013 coup, one of the most difficult moments for the regime, and suspicion returns every year on the anniversary of the Tahrir Square uprising of Jan. 25, 2011. While there are strong and consolidated connections between European activists and the left-wing Rojava in Syria, the pro-Kurd leftists in Turkey and even with unions in Tunisia, the labor unions and left-wing parties of Egypt are relatively on their own.
Precisely in this weak spot is where the military regime may have decided to strike. Their summary arrest ended with a long interrogation of a young man already worried because he was aware of the delicacy of his research. And so the detention ended with the torture and death of an alleged activist. Confirmation of this theory may be found in Regeni’s last article, published by il manifesto after his death.
What’s more, the reconstruction from the Giza prosecutors again puts Regeni near the Mohammed Naguib metro station, close to Tahrir Square, where he had a dinner meeting that night. An analysis of his cell phone confirmed he connected to the internet at the El Behoos station — close to his home — at 19:38 of Jan. 25. Those check-ins will help to remove false leads in the case.
Meanwhile, the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi continues its repression of Egyptians. Human rights groups have communicated their worries to the United Nations “for the violations of human rights in Egypt, from travel ban to threats of sexual assault.”
Activists have particularly quoted the abuses suffered by Aya Hegazy, Hesham Gaafar, Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid and Israa Abd el-Fattah — all activists, journalists and bloggers — and requested an immediate release of political prisoners. Justice Minister Ahmed el-Zind has instead requested an amendment to the counter-terrorism law asking to also prosecute the families and tutors of young people accused of being part of terrorist organizations.
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