Egypt's interior minister on Sunday denied media reports that police arrested an Italian student one week before he was found dead on the outskirts of Cairo, mutilated and bearing signs of torture.
Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old Cambridge University doctoral student, disappeared on Jan. 25, the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising that deposed former President Hosni Mubarak, near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. He had come to Egypt to research the rise of labor unions in the wake of the 2011 protests, and had also written a number of articles about Egyptian unions under a pseudonym for the Italian communist newspaper Il Manifesto, many of which were critical of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi’s government.
Regeni’s body was found in a ditch on Feb. 3 with numerous traumatic injuries: cigarette burns on his skin, broken ribs and fingers, and signs of electrocution on his genitals. An initial autopsy performed by Egyptian authorities found that Regeni had suffered bleeding from his brain, consistent with having been beaten on the head.
Italian investigators conducted a second autopsy after the body was returned to Italy for burial, and found that Regeni died from a broken cervical vertebra. The state of the body suggested Regeni had suffered "inhumane, animal-like violence," Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.
“Some foreign media are reporting rumors without physical evidence, and [they are] spreading false information in a way that misleads public opinion and affects the course of investigation,” Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar told the state news agency, MENA, on Sunday. The minister added that Egyptian officials are working to reveal information about the details of his death in full collaboration with Italian investigators.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry still maintains the “possibility of a criminal act” in Regeni’s death, a claim that Italian officials reject. Italian investigators have been dispatched to Cairo to work with their Egyptian counterparts on the case.
“We will not settle for purported truths, as we have said on the occasion of the two arrests initially linked to the death of Giulio Regeni,” Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said, referring to Egyptian security’s arrest of two civilians – whom he described as criminals – as suspects in Regeni’s death.
Local and international rights advocates have accused Egyptian security forces of arbitrary arrests without formal charges, as well as forced disappearances and torture of those kept in custody.
At least 150 people were arrested on the day Regeni vanished, as police vowed to prevent demonstrations commemorating the 2011 revolt.
The state National Council for Human Rights received about 200 complaints in 2015 alone about cases of forced disappearance, while the Cairo-based Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms documented 340 disappearance cases between August and November of last year.
More than 4,000 academics signed an open letter protesting Regeni’s death “in the midst of a security campaign which has resulted in mass arbitrary arrests, a dramatic increase in reports of torture within [Egyptian] police stations.”