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Student’s Death Highlights Oppression in Egypt

Michael Johnson
Giulio Regeni’s funeral in Fiumicello, Northern Italy, on Friday. (Photo: AP)

The family of an Italian Ph.D. student found dead in the outskirts of Cairo last month threatened to release photos of his badly-beaten body during a news conference Tuesday. Giulio Regeni’s mother hopes the move will pressure the Egyptian government into completing a thorough and honest investigation into her son’s death.

Regeni disappeared on January 25, 2016, as he went to meet a friend near Tahrir square. According to media reports, there was a heavy police presence that night in downtown Cairo as it marked the fifth anniversary of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. Regeni’s body was found over a week later, dumped half-naked in a ditch just west of the Egyptian capital.

However, three unnamed members of the security forces, interviewed separately and cited in the New York Times, said that the Italian student had been taken into police custody on January 25th. Officers were said to have searched his phone, finding connections to the banned Muslim Brotherhood and leftist movements he went to Egypt to study. “They figured he was a spy,” said one of the unnamed officials, “After all, who comes to Egypt to study trade unions?” The Egyptian security forces’ accounts Regeni’s death have been inconsistent from the start, with human rights groups suggesting a government coverup. Authorities originally said the cause of death was a road accident, but an Egyptian autopsy suggested murder, with Regeni showing signs of torture, including removed fingernails, broken bones, and cigarette burns. A full report from the Medical Examiner’s office was not made public. Security forces then suggested a criminal gang was responsible for the murder after reportedly finding Regeni’s personal effects during a police raid in Cairo on March 24. Officials claimed that the four men killed during the operation belonged to a kidnapping network.

The circumstances surrounding Regeni’s death have captured media attention in Italy and around Europe. Human rights groups estimate hundreds of Egyptians have undergone “enforced disappearances” at the hands of the security forces since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi rose to power almost two years ago. But the suspected kidnapping and torture of a Westerner seems to have crossed a line. Regeni’s death brings the government unwanted scrutiny, and more importantly, highlights the impunity of the security forces in the modern Egyptian state.