London – “Al-Quds Al-Arabi”: The Guardian newspaper published a report prepared by Ruth Michaelson, in which it said that a court in Rome is scheduled to begin the trial of 4 Egyptian security officers accused of killing Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, five and a half years after his mutilated body was found in a hole. On a road in Cairo.
The Italian prosecutor accuses Major General Tariq Saber, Colonel Atheer Ibrahim, Captain Hisham Helmy and Major Magdy Abdel Sharif of committing a “serious kidnapping” of Regeni, while Sharif is also accused of “conspiring to commit a serious murder.” The kidnapping carries a possible sentence of up to 8 years in Italy, while Sharif could receive a life sentence.
The newspaper pointed out that the trial will be in absentia after Egypt refused to recognize the trial in Rome and closed its investigation into the incident late last year, claiming that “the perpetrator of the student’s murder is still unknown.”
According to reports, Egypt obstructed efforts to investigate the incident, which included providing vital evidence to the Italian side with unjustified “loopholes”, rendering it useless.
Officials at the Egyptian Ministry of Justice and Interior also refused to provide them with the addresses of the four men, hampering Italian efforts to formally inform them that they are on trial. Court-appointed defense lawyers for the Egyptian side argued earlier that the trial should not continue if the four defendants were not aware that they were being tried. A judge in Rome ruled in May that news of the proceedings would reach them and allowed the case to continue.
The men are members of Egypt’s powerful National Security Agency, which prosecutors said trapped Regeni in a “spider web” of surveillance in the months before his death while researching labor unions in Cairo, a subject the Egyptian government considers politically sensitive.
Italian prosecutors will present a picture of the circumstances in which Regeni was arrested in January 2016 and taken to a police station in central Cairo before being transferred to a facility run by the National Security Agency, where he was tortured.
The newspaper added that the Regeni case unveils the depth of the Egyptian state’s monitoring of daily life, and provides an unusual insight into the internal workings of the National Security Agency, a body specialized in monitoring and enforcing security in political and terrorist cases, and whose methods often focus heavily on repression Political and civil society activity.
Therefore, the trial represents, according to the newspaper, a very rare opportunity to hold the Egyptian security forces accountable for abuses that observers say have become routine, especially cases of enforced disappearances where detainees are held secretly, a practice closely linked to torture.
The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, a Cairo-based human rights organization whose lawyers represent the Regeni family in Egypt, said in a report that it tracked 2,723 cases of enforced disappearance between 2015 and last year, but the Regeni case represented one of the first examples where a detainee was forcibly disappeared, tortured and killed.
Since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in a 2013 military coup, trials of even junior police officers for crimes against civilians have become extremely rare, while trials or any form of internal accountability for members of the Egyptian security forces has been unheard of.
Efforts to bring representatives of the Egyptian state to justice outside the country have faltered. Last month, a Washington court overturned a case against former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawy over his involvement in the torture of an Egyptian-American citizen who was imprisoned in Egypt.
Shortly after Italian prosecutors named the four men as suspects, their Egyptian counterparts said the indictments against members of their security forces were “not based on consistent evidence.” However, they added that the accusations against the security officials were based on “individual actions by them that have nothing to do with any official institutions in Egypt.”
The Guardian did not receive a response when it requested comment from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on the trial in Rome, and the Egyptian embassy in the Italian capital did not respond when trying to contact it.
The question of whether there was high-level support for Regeni’s kidnapping and killing is likely to overshadow actions aimed at establishing the truth of what happened to the graduate student at Cambridge University. Prosecutors in Rome also sought information about the involvement of 13 other security personnel, but said that “the failure of the Egyptian authorities to respond to our requests hampered our investigation.”
The Egyptian side did not publicly acknowledge the trial in Rome. However, Sisi recently unveiled a strategy aimed at “advancing human rights” in Egypt, one that fails to mention the role of security forces in suppressing civil society activism. The Biden administration recently withheld, on human rights grounds, a small portion of the $1.3 billion (£950 million) in military aid that Egypt receives annually.
“This is a brutal regime, why are they issuing a human rights strategy?” commented Amy Hawthorne, an expert on Egypt at the Project on Middle East Democracy in Washington. The target audience for this is the international audience.”
Hawthorne said the trial in Rome represented a rare moment for Egyptian security forces to be held accountable because the victim was a foreign national. She said, “This is much more than what the Egyptian victims get in Egypt during the era of Sisi…there is no justice in Egypt.”