Giulio Regeni’s parents urge Italy to help student held in Egypt

Ruth Michaelson in Cairo and Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo
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Giulio Regeni’s parents urge Italy to help student held in Egypt

The family of an Italian doctoral student murdered in Cairo have urged “democratic governments” to intervene in the case of an Egyptian master’s student in Italy who was detained on arrival in Egypt last week.

Paola and Claudio Regeni, the parents of Giulio Regeni, whose mutilated corpse was found in 2016, called on Italy to do more to help Patrick Zaky, an Egyptian student and activist studying at the University of Bologna who was detained and reportedly tortured on arrival in Cairo to visit his family.

“Patrick, like Giulio, is a brilliant international student and holds dear people’s inviolable rights,” the couple said in a statement issued by their lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini.

‘’We know what the Egyptian ferocity is capable of: kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, torture, threats, with the hypocritical complicity of governments and institutions that do not want to break their friendship with Egypt,” they said.

The Regeni family’s statement adds to mounting pressure on Egypt to release Zaky amid an ongoing campaign for more information about the disappearance and murder of their own son.

Regeni’s body was found on an outlying Cairo desert road in early 2016, after what Italian officials said was a long campaign of surveillance by the Egyptian security services. Five members of Egypt’s security forces were listed as suspects by Italian prosecutors in his case in late 2018, a decision rejected by Egyptian officials.

Zaky’s detention has reinvigorated Italian anger at Egyptian intransigence and a lack of transparency around Regeni’s case. Italy’s minister for parliamentary relations, Federico D’Incà, said: “Zaky’s disappearance and detention have aroused great emotion in all of us, evoking with a series of initial analogies, the painful and tragic affair of Giulio Regeni. The government will continue to give priority to the Zaky case, looking at the conditions of his detention and the need to ensure a rapid judicial process, in view of a hopefully prompt release.”

Zaky was yesterday moved to a “less favourable” detention facility close to his family home in Mansoura, according to the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Zaky, a gender and human rights researcher for EIPR, has been on leave since August 2019 to obtain a master’s degree in Bologna.

According to EIPR, he did not report further mistreatment in the new facility, but previously told his lawyers that he was beaten while blindfolded and tortured with electric shocks as officers questioned him about his activism. A hearing is expected on Saturday to examine an appeal against his detention order.

Zaky faces charges including harming national security, inciting illegal protests and intent to overthrow the state. Egyptian officials have provided little further information and have not responded to allegations that Zaky was tortured in detention. The country’s state information service said only that Zaky was arrested at the behest of Egyptian prosecutors “who decided to hold him for 15 days pending investigations”.

His case has continued to attract support in Italy and among European authorities, adding to the pressure on Egypt. The European parliament president, David Sassoli, on Wednesday called for Zaky to be released immediately.

As international pressure around Zaky’s case mounted, a mural appeared on a wall near the Egyptian embassy in Rome, showing Regeni embracing Zaky and telling him: “This time everything will turn out right”. The mural was mysteriously removed on Thursday night, sparking criticism among activists.