Overnight on March 24 and 25, the family of Giulio Regeni discovered that their “gloomiest predictions had finally come true.” Yet another red herring had been served on a silver platter, literally — their late son’s personal effects allegedly discovered in the hands of a criminal gang, a story widely dismissed as further misdirection by the Egyptian interior minister.
That’s when Regeni’s family decided to speak directly to reporters, without the mediation of the government of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Despite the difficulty of doing so, they appeared in public with the yellow Amnesty International banner — “Truth for Giulio Regeni” — and said that by holding a press conference, “we renew our sorrow.” But at this point it’s “a necessary pain,” they said. “What happened to Giulio in Egypt is not an isolated case.”
Regeni’s parents, Paola Deffendi and Claudio Regeni, choked back tears and with clarity talked about their son and the agonizing experience surrounding his death. Addressing media from around the world, they were joined by the chairman of the Commission for Human Rights Luigi Manconi, their lawyer Alessandra Ballerini and the spokesman for Italian Amnesty International Riccardo Noury.
The impression is that they still have confidence in Italian institutions, particularly in the Rome prosecutor’s office, and in their ability to obtain real cooperation from the Cairo authorities. But they have reached the end of their patience. Investigators are scheduled to meet again in Rome in a few days, and when they do, Deffendi asks: “What will the Egyptians bring?” The chief prosecutor of Rome, Giuseppe Pignatone, requested documents two months ago — a request reiterated by Ballerini and her Egyptian colleague, so as to increase the pressure. To date, the Egyptians have not shared all the evidence.
“If April 5 turns out to be an empty day, we look forward to a strong response from our government,” Deffendi said. “Strong, but very strong. We have been expecting an answer about Giulio since Jan. 25.”
Otherwise, the Regeni family explains, they will go the route Ilaria Cucchi took and show the world pictures of the mangled body of the young researcher. “We have not [threatened to do so] until now,” Ballerini said, “because the demonstrations and general protest made Egypt take a half step back.”
By exhibiting the photos, they hope to show that “he was not a journalist and he was not a spy,” Deffendi said. “He was just a young student … murdered because perhaps the ideas of my son were not liked.” She said they wanted people to see more than just Regeni’s “nice, always-smiling face” and instead show the world what happened to him in Egypt, after “all the world’s evil had fallen on him.”
“The only thing I really recognized of him — really the only one — was the tip of his nose,” his mother said.
It’s an indelible detail, but it’s not the only one. Deffendi said the family did not identify Regeni at the Cairo morgue, contrary to what has been reported by authorities in both countries. “In Egypt, they had advised us not to see him, and we accepted it because were so out of it, believe me,” she said. “We thought that maybe, yes, it was better to remember him as he was before.” The family only saw his body when it was returned to Rome for a second examination.
Not only that, but Ballerini said Italian authorities had pressured the family not to publicize Regeni’s disappearance, as usually happens and as his friends wanted to do. In fact, when the friends did start a “Where is Giulio?” campaign, it was stopped immediately. The Renzi government, a friend of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi “explained that there is a different informal procedure for Italian citizens” that seeks to ensure any off-the-books “detention would be changed into a formal arrest.”
In other words, from the first moment, the family’s actions were executed under strong pressure, though, at least on the Italian side, probably in good faith.
Tuesday afternoon, before the press conference, the Regeni family went to the Rome prosecutor’s office to examine the objects allegedly discovered at the hideout of a gang the Egyptian government claims killed Regeni. The family said most of the belongings were not Regeni’s. “Except for the documents and perhaps one of the two wallets, none of those objects used to construct a despicable image of Giulio belongs to him,” Ballerini said.
Moreover, although Regeni had lived away from home for years, “we had a very close relationship, deep, a rapport similar to the one that aboriginal people have across remote distances,” Deffendi said. Thus, “we know that Regeni did not work for and never lent his studies to the secret services, with all due respect for the role of intelligence. … He did not have the bank account of a spy and led a very simple life. There were €850 in his account, and the amount has not been touched. No withdrawal following the one on Jan. 15.” All of which shows once again, if more proof were needed, that the story of the foreigner-robbing gang does not hold water.
It is true, however, that “in 2015, there were 1,676 cases of torture in Egypt, 500 of which ended with the death of the tortured,” Noury said. “And in the first two months of 2016, there were already 88 people tortured, including eight deaths.”
When the two investigative sides meet April 5, the Regeni family does not expect “the truth,” but they don’t expect to waste another day, either. On this point, they want to combine the Amnesty campaign with a proposal made Tuesday by Italian Senator Luigi Manconi to “raise the question of a recall — not a withdrawal — of our ambassador for consultations. A gesture, which is not merely symbolic, to demonstrate how critical our country considers this case for maintaining good relations with Cairo.”
“I think it is necessary to consider the revision of diplomatic and consular relations between the two countries,” Manconi added, “taking into account the urgency and inevitability of more concrete actions by the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Crisis Unit, which should declare Egypt an unsafe country on the basis of what happened.”
Regeni is gone, he mother said at the end of the press conference. “But now we are here to talk about torture and about Egypt. Before, there was no talk about these issues.” She asked, finally, “Is Egypt a safe country?”