More than 4,600 academics around the world are calling for an inquiry into the death of Giulio Regeni, an Italian PhD student found dead in Cairo on Feb. 3.
Regeni, who had previously worked for the United Nations, was a University of Cambridge researcher and visiting scholar at the American University in Egypt’s capital. He disappeared on Jan. 25 and his body was found in a ditch on the outskirts of Cairo more than a week later, BBC reported.
“Those of us who knew of Giulio’s disappearance before the discovery of his body were desperately concerned for his safety because he vanished in the midst of a security campaign that has resulted in mass arbitrary arrests, a dramatic increase in reports of torture within police stations, and other cases of disappearances,” the academics wrote in an open letter published by The Guardian.
Italy’s ambassador to Egypt said he has “no doubt” Regeni was heavily beaten and tortured before being murdered, according to the Telegraph.
The 28-year-old was killed by a “violent blow to the head,” and his body was covered in contusions including bruises, knife wounds and cigarette burns. His death is raising questions in Rome, as an Egyptian official had suggested earlier Regeni died in a road accident.
Regeni was studying how labour unions were changing the region, and was driven by "a sense of justice," an obituary published on the University of Cambridge Centre of Development Studies said.
A woman takes part in a rally in memory of Italian student Giulio Regeni, who disappeared in Cairo and was found dead, on Saturday outside the Italian embassy in the Egyptian capital. (Photo: Mostafa El-Shemy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
There was heavy police presence in Cairo the day Regeni disappeared because it was the fifth anniversary of the start of protests against former President Hosni Mubarak, according to BBC. Several activists were arrested that day and others went into hiding.
"It has become increasingly difficult and dangerous to conduct research," the head of sociology for the American University in Cairo told the BBC. Researchers are sometimes denied entry to Egypt or arrested when they get there, she said.
Egypt is more dangerous than it’s been in a decade, according to former Amnesty International researcher Mohamed Lotfy.
Activists and Italian nationals living in Egypt take part in a rally in memory of Italian student Giulio Regeni on Saturday outside of the Italian embassy in Cairo. (Photo: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images)
Activists, lawyers and journalists live with the fear of their phones being tapped and are constantly intimidated and harassed by authorities, Lotfy wrote just three days before Regeni went missing.
This sometimes escalates to illegal arrest, unfair trials, harsh sentences, and even torture or death, he said.
“In such a climate of fear, those who continue to defend human rights are truly bravehearted.”
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