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Italian court halts trial against Egyptians for murder of student

ROME: The trial of four Egyptian security officers in Rome for the brutal murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni five years ago was thrown out by judges on Thursday, “bitterly” disappointing his family, who vowed not to give up on the case.
The judges ruled that the four could not be tried in absentia because prosecutors had not been able to officially inform them of the legal proceedings against them, a court-appointed defense attorney told AFP.
The officers were charged with kidnapping, conspiracy to murder and serious bodily injury in the case, sparking outrage in Italy and straining diplomatic relations with Egypt.
“We look with bitterness at the court’s decision, which rewards Egyptian arrogance,” Regeni family lawyer Alessandra Ballerini told reporters outside the court.
“It’s a setback, but we won’t give up,” he said.
Regeni’s parents and sister had been present at the hearing in the bunker room of Rebibbia prison, often the scene of mob trials.
The 28-year-old was doing PhD research at Cambridge University when he was abducted in Cairo in January 2016.
His body, with numerous signs of torture, was finally found lying on the outskirts of Cairo, naked from the waist down.
The Italian government joined the process with a civil claim for damages, in a symbolic show of support.
But before the actual trial could begin, the court first had to decide whether the four suspects, members of Egypt’s National Security Agency (NSA), were aware of the proceedings against them. Egypt has repeatedly refused to provide its contact details.
At a preliminary hearing in May, a judge ruled that media coverage meant news of the trial had reached them.
But the court overturned that ruling on Thursday, effectively sending the prosecution back to square one.
The four appear in court documents as General Tariq Sabir, Colonels Athar Kamel and Uhsam Helmi and Major Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif, accused of carrying out the murder.
Investigators believe Regeni was kidnapped and killed after being mistaken for a foreign spy.
Prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco had told the court that eyewitness testimony and other “important pieces of evidence” implicated security agents in the murder.
All four not only knew about the trial, but “acted in a systematic and persistent manner to slow down and block the investigation,” he said.
But attorney Tranquillino Sarno, appointed by the court to defend Colonel Kamel, said the case should be dismissed.
“The defendants don’t know anything. Not what they’re being accused of. It’s not that we’re here today.”
Regeni’s body was found nine days after her disappearance. His mother later said that he had been so badly mutilated that she only recognized her son by “the tip of his nose.”
Five teeth had been broken, 15 of his bones had been fractured and letters had been inscribed in his flesh, lawyer Ballerini said.
As part of her work for a doctorate, Regeni had been researching Egyptian trade unions, a particularly sensitive political issue.
His assassination sparked fresh criticism of Egypt’s human rights record under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“The decision leaves a bitter taste, but it must be respected and shows what a fair path looks like, something that could never happen in Egypt today,” Claudio Francavilla of Human Rights Watch told AFP.
He said the hearing had at least “exposed in detail the shameful and persistent lack of cooperation from the Egyptian authorities, marred by deviations, lies and delays.”
Francavilla also called on the international community to “drastically change course to address Egypt’s human rights crisis” with “targeted sanctions, arms embargo and human rights monitoring.”


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