Truth for Giulio Regeni

Is the UK Government doing enough over the terrible case of Giulio Regeni?

By “enough” I mean: is the Government putting any real time and effort into supporting the campaign to find out what really happened to this Cambridge University student who was abducted and tortured to death during his PhD research in Egypt?

There are grounds for thinking the answer is no. That no, the UK Government isn’t investing a great deal into establishing Verità per Giulio Regeni (the name of Amnesty Italy’s Regeni campaign). Look for a public statement on Regeni’s case on the Foreign Office’s website, and you’ll look in vain. There isn’t one. (Indeed, in the last three months Egypt’s swingeing crackdown on a whole swathe of human rights merits just one short, three-paragraph UK statement).

Regeni’s mutilated body was found in a ditch on the outskirts of Cairo on 3 February. Clearly something terrible had happened. A full two months later the UK Government said it wanted to see a full and transparent investigation. The Guardian said the UK Government was only then “breaking its silence” on the case.

The Foreign Affairs Committee recently expressed concern that the Government “has not been supporting the Italian authorities as forcefully as [Regeni’s] murder deserved”. The Committee also expressed some incredulity at the Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood leading a trade delegation to Egypt in January and then saying he couldn’t remember whether or not he’d raised human rights during the visit. Daniel Zeichner, an MP from Cambridge who’s raised Regeni’s case in the House of Commons (getting only a standard Government answer), has said he’s “increasingly frustrated with the Government’s weak response.” Al Jazeera reports that the Italian Government  is far from pleased at London's response to Regeni's death, though for the time being we're told this via an unnamed official who reportedly wishes not to be named.    

Friends and former colleagues at Cambridge are also unimpressed. On Friday they and the local city and university Amnesty groups organised a large public rally in the centre of Cambridge to once again draw attention to Regeni’s murder. (Note: Andrea Purgatori accuses the US Government of similarly keeping a low profile on Regeni’s case, preferring, it seems, to stress Egypt’s significance to peace and security in the region).

Late last week Reuters reported that, contrary to the Egyptian authorities’ claims, Regeni had been taken into custody by the Egyptian police at the time of his disappearance, and his torture and killing were therefore very likely to have been the work of one branch or another of Egypt's almost-completely-unaccountable security services.

Though unusual because he was a visiting foreign student, Regeni’s fate by domestic Egyptian standards is chillingly commonplace these days. Trade unionists, journalists, students, Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers, academics and numerous others have recently found themselves the subject of unwelcome visits from Egypt’s increasingly hard-line authorities. An Amnesty report last year showed how a whole generation of young protesters enthused by the 2011 uprising have now been picked off under President Sisi’s crackdown, many of them becoming “Generation Jail” and joining the tens of thousands of those locked up by the police and the courts. Hundreds - if not thousands - of detainees appear to have been tortured, and many have died through deliberate mistreatment or neglect and denial of medical care (something, by the way, the UK Government's recently-published Human Rights & Democracy report acknowleges  to be a serious issue).

As a 28-year-old student of trade unions, Regeni could hardly have been unaware of this forbidding situation. It’s nevertheless a tragic irony that he too seems to have been caught up in the maw of this monstrous turn of events in Egypt.

As it happens my partner is also an Italian with a PhD from a British university. It says a lot about the quality and prestige of British universities that people from around the world want to come here to study at places like Cambridge University. When they do you’d expect the authorities here to take some interest in their welfare. Why then isn’t the UK Government doing more for Giulio Regeni? We need the truth. 

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