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Egypt's Police Are Going After the Journalists Who Linked Them to Italian Student’s Murder

It's been four days since Reuters published an expose implicating Egyptian security forces in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, and in Egypt threats against the news organization are mounting.
Uno striscione con la scritta “Verità per Giulio”, a Roma. [Foto di Angelo Carconi/EPA]

It's been four days since Reuters published an expose implicating Egyptian security forces in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, and in Egypt threats against the news organization are mounting.

Regeni was a 28-year-old graduate student at Cambridge studying Egyptian labor unions. He disappeared on January 25 and his body, which Italian officials say showed evidence of "inhumane, animal-like violence," was found days later, dumped on the side of a road outside Cairo.


Egyptian officials first blamed Regeni's death on a car crash, and later said he'd been brutalized by a gang of kidnappers — all whom Egypt's government said were killed by Egyptian security forces in a shootout in late March. Egyptian authorities claimed to have found Regeni's belongings at the criminal gang's hideout.

But the Reuters story cited six anonymous security officials, all confirming that Regeni was in fact in police custody the day he disappeared. Just hours after the Reuters story broke on on April 21, Egyptian Parliamentarian Mostafa Bakry denounced the Reuters piece, and asked the government to investigate possible links between the Muslim Brotherhood and the news organization — the Muslim Brotherhood is legally considered a terrorist organization, and its members are routinely arrested and detained, with some never being heard from again.

The next day, the police chief at Azbakeya police station in Cairo — where the Reuters story claims Regeni was initially held by security forces— filed a formal complaint against Michael Georgy, the Reuters bureau chief based in Cairo. Prosecutors confirmed they were indeed investigating the complaint, though it's not clear yet if any Reuters employees have been called in for questioning.

"I'm sure the Reuters team is in danger," Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator at the Committee for the Protection of Journalists said. "There are threats being made against them in very high places."


Related: Egyptian Police Detained Italian Student Giulio Regeni Before His Murder, Say Security Sources

The day the Reuters story broke, Egypt's Interior Ministry released a statement saying it "reserves the right to take legal action against promoters of these rumours and false news." It's illegal in Egypt to contradict security forces' versions of events, and the crime can carry up to a year behind bars.

Reuters told VICE News that Michael Gregory, the bureau chief, is "currently travelling on business," but would not confirm or deny reports that he had left the country under duress.

Reuters also stressed that its story did not directly accuse the police of killing Regeni. The anonymous sources only claimed that the graduate student was taken to the Azbakeya police station, held for half an hour, and transferred to another location, with one source saying he was sent to Lazoughli, a state security compound run by Egyptian Homeland Security. So far, its been impossible to piece together what happened between that day, January 25, to when his Regini's was found February 3, when his body was dumped alongside the road.

But before the Reuters story broke, there was strong circumstantial evidence linking Egyptian security forces to Regeni's murder. He disappeared on January 25, a day where police were out in force throughout Cairo to discourage demonstrations commemorating the overthrow of the Mubarak regime five years earlier. Regini's research required interviewing labor activists and direct contact with political figures who are often targeted by the Egyptian government. And the physical evidence pointed to torture methods often employed by Egyptian police. Ahmed Nagy, the Egyptian prosecutor investigating the case, admitted there was "evident signs of torture all over," Regeni's body, including cigarette burns, and small stab wounds to the head.


Reuters, for its part, is not repudiating any of its reporting. "We stand by the story," David Crundwell, Reuters senior vice president of corporate affairs, wrote in an email. "The story did not state who is responsible for his death, and is consistent with Reuters' commitment to accurate and independent journalism."

Crundwell also could not confirm Egyptian media reports that Reuters is being investigated for its coverage.

"We cannot verify whether a complaint has been filed against Reuters regarding the story, as we have not received notice of any legal action," Crundwell wrote.

Regini's case, and Egypt's hesitance to carry out a transparent investigation, have stoked tension between the European Union and the Egyptian government.

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Egypt's general-turned President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has repeatedly denied any links between security forces and Regini's murder. He went so far as to give an exclusive interview to the Italian Newspaper Esteri, where he tried to assure the Italians that the case was being taken seriously.

"My promise to Regeni's family, as a father: We'll find who killed Giulio," he said.

Italian authorities and the European Union have repeatedly called into questions the seriousness of Egypt's investigation. The European Parliament passed a resolution last month which suggested Egyptian security forces were involved in Regini's death, and called for the suspicion of military aid to Egypt.

Still, Mansour, with the Committee for the Protection of Journalist, says the international criticism hasn't forced Egypt to seriously investigate Regeni, or allow journalists to ask hard questions about his killing.

"There's not nearly enough pressure," he said. "And besides, its falling on deaf ears."

In 2015 alone, Egyptian human rights organizations have documented 1,840 cases of forced disappearances, and the US State Department's 2015 report on human rights said that in most cases the Egyptian government "did not comprehensively investigate human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces." The lack of accountibity, the State Department said, contributed to an "environment of impunity."