The brutal death in Cairo in January 2016 of Giulio Regeni, an Italian doctoral student at Cambridge University, prompted an international letter calling for an independent enquiry that quickly gained 4600 signatures. This was formally delivered to the Egyptian Embassy in London on 22 March. The Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr Hassan Shawky, received the letter and discussed the request with a group of eight teachers and researchers from Cambridge and London universities who reflected a cross-section of the signatories.
[For more information on the campaign see Egypt Solidarity Initiative, Guardian article, University and College Union, Amnesty International Campaign “Truth for Giulio”, Petition to the EU institutions.]
Mr Shawky assured the group that the Egyptian government was committed at the highest level to investigate the crime fully and to bring the perpetrators to justice. It had taken the unprecedented step of acting quickly to bring in an Italian team who were now working closely with the Egyptian investigators. More recently the Italian Attorney-General had met with his Egyptian counterpart and declared himself satisfied with the way the investigation was being pursued. Mr Shawky was aware of speculation in the media about the circumstances of the death but insisted that no-one should jump to conclusions before the investigation was complete.
Members of the signatory group expressed their shock and outrage at the killing of Giulio Regeni. The inherent injustice involved in the return from Egypt of an extraordinary and talented researcher in a body bag covered in signs of torture was recounted. It was also underlined that academics rely on fieldwork to carry out their research, that Giulio was doing something very normal, and thus that this case threatened a fundamental tenet of academic practice. Strong reservations were voiced about the credibility and independence of the investigative procedures described by the Deputy Ambassador. It was emphasized that international credibility in this matter would require rigorous procedures of evidence-gathering and investigative method, the implication being that these were lacking from the Egyptian investigation. It was pointed out that the head of the Egyptian investigation had reportedly himself been convicted of torture and murder, and that this implied that the investigation was not credible. It was mentioned that the Deputy Ambassador had painted too rosy a picture of Italo-Egyptian cooperation, and that senior Italian officials had stated that the cooperation was insufficient. It was stressed that our role as academics was not to support the Egyptian government, as the Deputy Ambassador asked, but to defend academic freedom and human rights. It was noted that Giulio’s death implicated not only Egyptian-Italian relations, but also UK-Egyptian relations, as Giulio had been resident in the UK. It was noted that the issue had international ramifications because signatories to the letter were from many countries, and because the case of Giulio touched academics everywhere. It was noted that British universities in general, and Cambridge University in particular, have enjoyed and fostered close ties to Egypt, but that these ties were in jeopardy as a result of Giulio’s death, and would especially be jeopardized by an inadequate investigation. The delegation was not reassured by the Deputy Ambassador’s remarks, and left with no reason to believe that the investigation being carried out by the Egyptian government would be credible.
Mr Shawky said that the Egyptian government would not accept an international investigation into the case beyond the collaboration with the Italian authorities, and that the Italian government had not requested this. He said that it was being conducted in a proper way so that the outcome could not be questioned. He added that there was no intention to hide anything of relevance because any hidden truth would backfire. He appreciated the friendship which the group expressed towards the Egyptian people and would, in his report to Cairo, emphasise the points they had raised.
The group of signatory academics was:
- Professor William Brown, Emeritus Master of Darwin College, University of Cambridge
- Dr John Chalcraft, Associate Professor in the Department of Government, London School of Economics
- Professor Clément Mouhot, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge
- Dr Paolo Gerbaudo, Director of the Centre for Digital Culture, King’s College, London University
- Dr Glen Rangwala, Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge
- Ms Sophie Roborgh, Doctoral candidate, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge
- Dr Sharath Srinivasan, Director, Centre for Governance and Human Rights, University of Cambridge
- Dr Waseem Yaqoob, Research Fellow, Pembroke College, Research Staff Rep, Cambridge UCU, University of Cambridge