You are a young university student doing research and fighting really hard for your ideals of justice and truth. You receive a high quality education that motivates you to change something where basic ethical principles are not respected. You see a crisis and you decide to dig deeper, so you travel to another country and you keep searching for the truth. You talk to people, observe, analyze and, as time goes by, you start being noticed by the authorities of the place. One day, after studying a lot, you go out to meet your friends, you see the celebrations in the town, and you head towards the subway station, but you never reach your friends’ house.
You disappear. Nobody knows where you are. You are being tortured, but the truth about your situation is hidden from the people you care about. And then you are killed. This is what happened to Giulio Regeni.
Giulio Regeni was a 28 year old Italian PhD student at the University of Cambridge, doing a research on Egyptian independent trade unions as a visiting scholar at the American University of Cairo. Before attending university, he was awarded a scholarship and spent two years on a boarding school in the US, where his love for the Middle East and Northern Africa was born. His desire for truth, international understanding, justice and freedom that was his ticket into Cambridge, also led him to his death in Egypt, a country right across the Mediterranean sea from where he was born.
On the evening of January 25th 2016, as he was heading towards a subway station, Giulio disappeared and was nowhere to be found, until 9 days later, on February the 3rd, when his body was found in a ditch next to the highway leading from Cairo to Alexandria, with signs of torture like broken ribs, signs of electric shocks, cuts and abrasions. The Italian authorities immediately started researching and asked the Egyptian police forces to look into the case, since the man was on their territory. However, what happened remains a mystery.
The New York Times, claimed last February that the Egyptian police made many mistakes that, perhaps as part of a strategy to slow down the case and hide evidence. For example, they did not immediately ask for the security footage recorded on the cameras of three shops Giulio walked past while going to the subway station.
An anonymous witness said that Giulio was stopped on the street by two police officers who checked his bag and his passport and then took him away. The police were already checking everyone on that street, probably because of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising that led to the impeachment of president Hosni Mubarak, but a witness reported that one of the two agents was seen before in the neighborhood, asking about Regeni.
Violence and persecution are seen as a solution to the problems police forces face, resulting in many people being tortured in police stations. Police violence was one of the main causes for the uprising and possibly the reason that had people celebrating in Cairo the night Regeni disappeared. However, violence did not stop nor diminish, growing stronger and stronger under president Abdel Fattah al Sisi, who wants to get rid of all the opposition. Mohamed Zarea, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, affirmed that the Regeni case clearly had something to do with security forces in Egypt and the violence that they too often use.
Three security agents later said that Regeni was arrested for being rude towards the police, doing a research about independent trade unions, being the author of some articles criticising al Sisi and because they found contacts of people affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood on his phone. The government, thought he was a spy, according to their claims. Egyptian authorities dispersed all of these claims, instead supporting that he could have died in a car accident, a robbery or something else in his personal life that they do not know of.
They further declared that Western media outlets were biased and that the whole Regeni case is a conspiracy against the country. They say that the case is not a coincidence, when the biggest oil reserve was found in the Mediterranean sea earlier. It was an -alleged- Israeli operation who “wants to control gas exportations in the Middle East”. They also blame the Muslim Brotherhood and opponents of Al Sisi, who aspire to ruin his reputation and the reputation of the country as a whole.
Almost a year later and we still do not know who is telling the truth and who is not. People all around the world have joined the Amnesty International campaign demanding the truth about Giulio Regeni and what happened to him. Yellow signs have appeared in many places, especially in Northern Italy, saying “Verità per Giulio Regeni” (=Truth for Giulio Regeni). People joined rallies and talked to politicians, in a huge effort led by his parents, who still fight until they find the truth about their son.
Giulio’s parents, Paola Deffendi and Claudio Regeni addressed the Italian Senate, are strongly supportive of the Amnesty International campaign, never giving up on him, keeping his memory, as well as his passion for truth, alive. They recently made an important and generous decision, proof of their open-mindedness, to provide a scholarship for an Italian-Egyptian student to attend the same school he did from 2005 to 2007. They do not want Giulio and his story forgotten.
Sadly, if Giulio was Egyptian, people he would have already been forgotten, same with all the other young Egyptian students who disappear and get killed every year. However, Giulio was an Italian at the University of Cambridge and his case drew the attention of international press on Egypt.
Maybe, even if he died for this, he really made his search for the truth meaningful, unwillingly opening the world’s eyes on what is happening, for it was being ignored or seen as another foreign human rights violation that did not really appeal to people elsewhere. Giulio Regeni died brutally in a subhuman way, in a land that he had fallen in love with, but his death will not be in vain; He is the example of an unbreakable will to discover the truth, showing the reality of Egypt, where students do not have freedom of speech and research. For that Giulio, we can only say “Grazie”.