An Italian court decided to suspend the trial of four Egyptian police officers, accused of killing Italian researcher Giulio Rihini, and ordered the papers to be returned to the preliminary investigative judge.
The court feared that the officers might not know that they were accused, which would invalidate the proceedings.
Regeni’s family and lawyers described the decision as a “setback.”
The trial of the four officers in absentia was scheduled to begin Thursday in the Italian capital, Rome, in the presence of Regeni’s parents.
The officers face charges of kidnapping, torturing, and killing the Italian researcher about five years ago in Egypt, which the Egyptian authorities deny.
In February 2016, Regeni’s body was found in a pit near the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and Regeni’s body was so disfigured that his mother found it difficult to recognize him.
Regeni was no more than twenty-eight years old when he was kidnapped on January 25, 2016, while he was preparing a PhD thesis at Cambridge University on independent Egyptian trade unions. Within a week, his body was found on the side of a road to Alexandria.
The Italian side accuses the Egyptian authorities of “obstructing” the Italian investigations into the Regeni case, because there are different accounts about the way he was killed: one of them spoke of a drug deal, another of a failed robbery attempt, and a third of an attempted rape.
But the Italian prosecutor concluded that the Egyptian national security was involved in the killing of the young researcher.
Prosecutors said that the Italian researcher had been under surveillance for weeks, and security reports by a member of the Cairo Street Vendors Syndicate described him as a spy. The prosecution adds that, before his death, Regeni was kicked, punched, wounded and burned with very hot objects, in addition to being beaten with sticks.
The Italian prosecutor named four defendants in the case: Major General Tariq Saber, Colonel Hossam Helmy, Colonel Athar Kamel Muhammad Ibrahim, and Major Sherif Magdy Ibrahim Abdel Aal.
Egypt denied Regeni’s death while he was being held by security forces. The four defendants deny the charge of kidnapping Regeni. Major Sharif also rejects other accusations of involvement in the infliction of severe injuries and murder.
Regeni’s killing sparked widespread anger and caused a crisis in relations between Egypt and Italy, which recalled its ambassador from Cairo.
Egypt halted its investigation into Regeni’s murder, “based on insufficient evidence,” according to the Egyptian public prosecutor.
Last December, the Egyptian Public Prosecution decided to temporarily close the investigation file into the case of Regeni’s murder, declaring its rejection of the measures taken by the Rome Prosecution towards moving charges against Egyptian officers.
The Egyptian authorities acknowledge that Regeni was monitored and betrayed by people he met. However, the Egyptian authorities refuse to provide Italy with details of the defendants’ places of residence.
Regeni’s parents – Claudio Regeni and Paola Devendi – accused the Italian government of abandoning them, after normalizing relations with Egypt and selling two frigates as part of a major arms deal.
Meanwhile, political opposition in Egypt remains hidden. In a report issued last year, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms said it had documented more than 2,700 cases of enforced disappearance since 2015.
Earlier this year, Alessandra Ballerini, a lawyer for Regeni’s parents, said all of Regeni’s human rights had been violated. Now, with the court proceedings proceeding, Regeni’s parents “have good hope that at least the right to the truth will not be violated”.
Regeni disappeared while in Cairo on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the January 2016 revolution, and about two weeks after his disappearance, his body was found on the side of a desert road showing signs of torture.