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Commentary. Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said on Thursday that “Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a passionate discussion partner in the search for the truth.” It’s a flattering way to refer to the head of a state that tortures and disappears activists as a matter of state policy.

Italian foreign minister warps the definition of ‘truth’

We have enough experience to know that historical truth is not to be confused for judicial truth. Every investigation of criminal acts, whether of minor or major public significance, is an exhausting process: long, relentless, hemmed in by gradual approximations to the truth itself.

The word “truth” should be used with great caution and with utmost respect. But on Thursday, in the case of Giulio Regeni, this word was abused. “We are convinced that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a passionate discussion partner in the search for the truth” — these were the words used by Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano.

What “truth” was our highest diplomatic official talking about? Certainly not the only truth we know for certain, which is that in Egypt torture is a systematic practice.

Just before summer, in its report on Egypt, the U.N. Committee against Torture wrote verbatim: “Torture appears to occur particularly frequently following arbitrary arrests and is often carried out to obtain a confession or to punish and threaten political dissenters. Torture occurs in police stations, prisons, State security facilities, and Central Security Forces facilities. Torture is perpetrated by police officers, military officers, National Security officers and prison guards. […] Perpetrators of torture almost universally enjoy impunity, although Egyptian law prohibits and creates accountability mechanisms for torture and related practices, demonstrating a serious dissonance between law and practice.

“In the view of the Committee, all the above lead to the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt.”

Alfano’s words go beyond the classic bitter pill of realpolitik. They are nothing short of a personal tribute to a man who, according to the United Nations, is the head of a state where crimes against humanity are systematically committed. Alfano twists the word “truth” merely to keep up political and economic relations.

It would have been far better to be honest and cynically state that human rights and justice have to be sacrificed for geo-political and commercial reasons. Instead, even the word “truth” is being twisted beyond recognition to justify the mountain of untruths that have come from Cairo so far.

This all comes after el-Sisi declared, at the World Youth Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, that the Egyptian authorities are committed to finding the culprits, and that in fact Regeni was tortured and killed in order to harm Italo-Egyptian relations (or, in other words, investments).

But if that is so, how can we explain the many outrageous attempts at misdirection and the unwillingness of the Egyptian authorities to cooperate in an active and serious manner with Italian investigators? According to our foreign minister, el-Sisi is a man who is passionate in the search for truth — indeed, a true statesman. Truth here seems to sit well next to torture and enforced disappearances.

If Alfano and el-Sisi cared so much about the truth, they would read those truths written in black and white by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, or those in the latest report by the State Department of the United States, claiming that the Egyptian authorities are making more and more use of enforced disappearances to discourage the emergence of any criticism from the opposition.

According to American diplomats, one simply cannot trust the Egyptian justice system: “Public officials have consistently refused to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment made by detainees, as well as evidence showing that the security forces had falsified the dates of the arrest reports in cases of forced disappearance.”

Before Thursday, the only indisputable truth we had was Regeni’s body, tortured to death. Now we have one more: that Italy, with Alfano’s words, has chosen the path of injustice and untruth.

Patrizio Gonnella is the president of the Italian human rights organization Antigone.

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