On Saturday afternoon, the lawyer for the family of Giulio Regeni, the doctoral student and il manifesto contributor whose body was discovered on a Cairo street this week, confirmed to an Italian wire service what she had told us on the phone that morning. The “manifesto case” — the controversy in Italy over the publication of Regeni’s final article — is closed.
“We had asked as a form of respect for Giulio’s wishes that they not publish his article,” attorney Alessandra Ballerini told ANSA. “Il manifesto did not respect (the request), but the family does not want controversy and has other priorities.”
Good. Because for all of Thursday and again Friday there’s been a huge stir, especially on social media, about a formal notice from the Regeni family about their son’s final article. The controversy has almost eclipsed other more vital issues, including the mystery of his murderers and the safety of others in Egypt.
In fact, Regeni wrote to us in an email Jan. 9 with the express request to publish the article in il manifesto. In his words, il manifesto is the “newspaper of record in Italy” and “is naturally sensitive” to workers’ demands in Egypt. After all, not many newspapers in our country treat with regularity the issues of workers’ rights in Tunisia, Egypt, India and Pakistan, just to name a few countries.
The reasons for the family’s formal notice, which we received by fax at 7:25 p.m. Thursday, were essentially two: concern for Regeni’s safety and concern for any friends still researching in Egypt.
Immediately the request struck us as unusual. For one, it suggested that Regeni was not dead yet. It also claimed that we had delayed in publishing the article because we were unwilling to honor to his request to use a pseudonym.
Both statements were quite clearly false.
Unfortunately, by late Thursday afternoon, the family, accompanied by the Italian ambassador to Egypt, had already identified the young man’s corpse; any concern for his safety was already tragically overshadowed by his murder. Additionally, between Jan. 9-12, we explained to Regeni that although the topic was interesting, there was no space in the newspaper to publish the it at the time. We told him he was free to publish his article elsewhere.
Regeni, in a final email exchange with the editorial staff, accepted the decision “a little reluctantly” and said he was “available for future collaborations from Egypt” because “it’s still a pleasure to be able to publish in il manifesto.” In January, and during his disappearance, the article was not published anywhere in any form.
The second unusual statement in the formal notice concerned Regeni’s request that we publish his article under a pseudonym. According to Ballerini, we were unwilling to honor that request. On the contrary, on previous occasions we had already published Regeni’s work under a pseudonym.
It is not uncommon, in fact, for freelancers to ask us not to use their real names to avoid problems with the authorities of the countries in which they reside and work. We have even published articles written by five or six people signed by a single pen name.
Out of an abundance of caution, on Thursday morning, well before the notice from Ballerini and subsequent backlash, we removed all of Regeni’s articles from our website and submitted a request to search engines to do the same. In other words, we took safety precautions before, during and after Regeni’s disappearance.
In this Friday’s paper, we decided not to comply with Ballerini’s warning and instead respected the wishes of Regeni, who had submitted the article specifically to il manifesto in order to see it published in these pages. To those who accuse us on social media of profiteering, we can only remind them that the articles on il manifesto can be read on our website for free and without advertising.
Without knowing anything about these facts, many have spoken of that formal notice — now submitted to news agencies, the Association of Journalists and the Italian Data Protection Authority — raising the need to clarify in writing, as if the article in question contained state secrets, political charges or a shocking scoop. As anyone can now see, the article is a mere chronicle of an assembly of Egyptian union workers and Regeni’s interpretation of the social situation in that country.
We have respected the last will and the professional and cultural capacity of this brilliant researcher, lifting the veil on his real name only after the official confirmation of his murder and the identification of his body by his parents.
If you want to know the “whole truth” about his death, as we wrote in an editorial on Friday, you have to start with yourself and wipe the slate of any allegations, mudslinging and suspicions about his work. Making his work available to the public was the first instrument — the only one we have as a newspaper — at the service of truth and justice.