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CRIME

Giulio Regeni: Italian court stops trial of Egyptians over student’s murder

The trial of four Egyptian security officers in Rome for the brutal killing of Italian student Giulio Regeni five years ago was thrown out by judges Thursday, "bitterly" disappointing his family who vowed not to give up on the case.

Activists take part in a demonstration in Piazza Castello in Turin on January 25, 2020, to mark the fourth anniversary since the disappearance of Italian student Giulio Regeni.
Activists take part in a demonstration in Piazza Castello in Turin on January 25, 2020, to mark the fourth anniversary since the disappearance of Italian student Giulio Regeni. Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

The trial of four Egyptian security officers in Rome for the brutal killing of Italian student Giulio Regeni five years ago was thrown out by judges Thursday, “bitterly” disappointing his family which vowed not to give up on the case.

The judges ruled that the four could not be tried in absentia because prosecutors had been unable to officially inform them of the judicial process against them, a court-appointed defence lawyer told AFP.

The officers stand accused of kidnapping, conspiracy to murder and grievous bodily harm in the case, which sparked outrage in Italy and has strained diplomatic relations with Egypt.

“We note with bitterness the court’s decision, which rewards Egyptian arrogance,” the Regeni family’s lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini, told reporters outside the court.

“It is a setback, but we will not give up,” she said.

Regeni’s parents and sister had been present at the hearing in the bunker room of Rebibbia prison, often the stage for mafia trials.

The 28-year-old was doing research for a doctorate at Cambridge University when he was abducted in Cairo in January 2016.

His body, bearing extensive signs of torture, was eventually found dumped on the outskirts of Cairo, naked from the waist down.

The Italian government joined the proceedings with a civil suit for damages, in a symbolic show of support.

The parents of Giulio Regeni hold a banner reading ''Truth for Giulio Regeni'' during a press conference with Senator Luigi Manconi, president of the Human Rights commission at the Italian Senate, on March 29, 2016 in Rome.

The parents of Giulio Regeni hold a banner reading ”Truth for Giulio Regeni” during a press conference with Senator Luigi Manconi, president of the Human Rights commission at the Italian Senate, on March 29, 2016 in Rome. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

‘They know nothing’

But before the trial proper could begin, the court had first to rule on 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 their contact details.

At a preliminary hearing in May, a judge ruled that media coverage meant news of the trial would have reached them.

But the court overturned that ruling on Thursday, effectively sending the prosecution back to square one.

The four are named in court documents as General Tariq Sabir, Colonels Athar Kamel and Uhsam Helmi and Major Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif, who is accused of carrying out the killing.

Investigators believe Regeni was abducted and killed after being mistaken for a foreign spy.

Prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco had told the court that eye witness testimony and other “significant elements of proof” implicated the security officers in the murder.

All four not only knew about the trial but had “systematically and persistently acted to slow and block the investigation”, he said.

But lawyer Tranquillino Sarno, appointed by the court to defend Colonel Kamel, said the case should be thrown out.

“The defendants know nothing. Not what they are accused of. Not that we are here today”.

Activists take part in a demonstration in Piazza Castello in Turin on January 25, 2020, to mark the fourth anniversary since the disappearance of Italian student Giulio Regeni.

Activists take part in a demonstration in Piazza Castello in Turin on January 25, 2020, to mark the fourth anniversary since the disappearance of Giulio Regeni. Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

‘Bitter taste’

Regeni’s corpse was found nine days after he disappeared. His mother later said it had been so badly mutilated she only recognised her son by the “tip of his nose”.

Five of his teeth had been broken, 15 of his bones had been fractured and letters had been inscribed into his flesh, lawyer Ballerini said.

As part of his work for a doctorate, Regeni had been researching Egyptian trade unions, a particularly sensitive political issue.

His murder triggered fresh criticism of Egypt’s human rights record under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“The decision leaves a bitter taste, but must be respected, and shows what a fair trail looks like — something that could never take place in today’s Egypt,” Claudio Francavilla from Human Rights Watch told AFP.

He said the hearing had at least “exposed in detail the shameful and persistent lack of cooperation by Egyptian authorities, marred by diversions, lies, 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”.

By AFP’s Ella Ide.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

An Italian centre-left election pact broke down on Sunday just days after it was formed, leaving the path to power clear for the hard-right coalition.

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

The alliance between Italian centre-left parties was left in disarray on Sunday night, potentially meaning a landslide victory for the hard-right coalition at early general elections in September.

The leader of the centrist Azione party withdrew support for the left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party (PD) just five days after the two joined forces, saying it could not work with left-wingers brought in to boost the alliance.

Carlo Calenda, leader of Azione, withdrew his support on Sunday after PD made another pact with smaller left-wing parties including the radical Sinistra Italiana, and new green party Europa Verde.

“You cannot explain (to voters) that to defend the constitution you make a pact with people you know you will never govern with,” Calenda told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The news was greeted with jubilation by hard-right League leader Matteo Salvini, who tweeted: “On the left chaos and everyone against everyone!”

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the neofascist Brothers of Italy party (FdI) mocked a “new twist in the soap opera of the centre-left.”

READ ALSO: Italy to choose ‘Europe or nationalism’ at election, says PD leader

Analyists predict the centre-left split could hand the right-wing bloc a landslide victory at the election on September 25th, with Meloni tipped to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni has a strong alliance with Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Letta is struggling to bring together the disparate  progressive parties.

The PD is neck and neck with Brothers of Italy in the latest opinion polls, but even in partnership with Azione, the group most recently polled at 33.6 percent, compared with 46.4 percent for the right.

Political commentators said the only hope PD has now of posing a credible threat to the right-wing alliance would be by partnering with the Five Star Movement.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

However, Letta has repeatedly said this is out of the question, as he blames M5S for triggering the political crisis that brought down Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government.

“Either PD eats its hat and seeks alliance with M5S to defeat the right-wing coalition, or it’s hard to see how the right can possibly lose the forthcoming election,” Dr Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey in England, tweeted on Sunday.

Early elections were called after Draghi resigned in late July. His government currently remains in place in a caretaker role.

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