Four Egyptians on trial in Rome for the murder of Giulio Regeni.

Four Egyptians on trial in Rome for the murder of Giulio Regeni.

Four Egyptian security officials are being retried in their absence in Rome for their involvement in the abduction and killing of an Italian student in Cairo.

Giulio Regeni, age 28, was conducting a research project when he was taken against his will in January 2016. His remains were discovered nine days later, left on the outskirts of Cairo with evidence of severe physical abuse.

The killing of a person caused significant tension between Italy and Egypt, with members of Italian parliament later claiming that Cairo was actively opposed to efforts to prosecute the perpetrators.

The initial trial in 2021 was dismissed by Italian judges due to the inability of prosecutors to properly inform the four suspects of the legal proceedings against them. However, a consequential decision by the constitutional court in September of last year determined that the trial could continue even without the accused being formally notified, as the Egyptian authorities had not disclosed their location.

Alessandra Ballerini, Regeni’s lawyer, said to the press that they had been anticipating this moment for eight years. She expressed their hope to finally have a trial against those responsible for causing harm to Giulio.

The four defendants were named in original court documents as Gen Tariq Sabir, Cols Athar Kamel and Uhsam Helmi, and Maj Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif. They all face charges of kidnapping, and Sharif is charged also with inflicting the fatal injuries.

In 2021, they will not be present at the trial. According to the court-appointed defense lawyer Tranquillino Sarno, they are completely untraceable. He also mentioned that even if they were found guilty, they would not serve their sentences due to this fact.

The trial’s witness lists have been submitted by various parties, including the Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, and former foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Regeni was conducting research in Cairo for his doctoral dissertation on the union involvement of street vendors. He went missing after leaving his apartment in the Dokki area to meet with some friends. Despite efforts from his loved ones, his body was discovered on the side of a desert road on February 4th, bearing evidence of torture. According to his mother, she could only recognize him by the tip of his nose.

The exact details of the suffering inflicted upon Regeni and the discovery of his body near a detention center operated by Egypt’s national security agency have raised widespread suspicions that members of Egypt’s security agencies were responsible for his death. However, officials in Egypt have presented a conflicting perspective.

“The determination of the perpetrator will ultimately be made by the security services,” stated Shaaban al-Shamy, who was the vice-minister of justice and a forensics expert at the time, in an interview with the Guardian in 2016. Egypt eventually acknowledged that the student had been under surveillance prior to his death.

The initial investigation by Italian prosecutors was hindered from the beginning. In January 2016, a team of Italian investigators was sent to Cairo, but they were unable to fully collaborate with Egyptian authorities. The autopsy of Regeni’s body was conducted in Egypt without any Italian officials present, leading the Italian team to conduct a separate investigation.

Italian officials made multiple requests for CCTV footage from the Cairo metro on the day that Regeni went missing. However, it was not until 2018 that Egypt provided the footage, which was deemed unusable by the Italians due to unexplained gaps in the recording.

In December 2021, an Italian parliamentary commission determined that Egypt’s security agency was responsible for the death of Regeni, weeks after the initial trial was dismissed. The commission also criticized Egypt’s judiciary for hindering the investigation by not revealing the location of the defendants.

The public prosecutor in Egypt announced in December 2020 that all four suspects, along with a fifth individual, have been absolved of any involvement in Regeni’s death. The prosecutor also stated that the case would be closed.

This report includes contributions from the Associated Press and Agency France-Presse.