Italian judge halts Giulio Regeni trial, orders police to find accused

A judge in Rome stopped the trial of four high-ranking Egyptian security forces on the opening day on Thursday student. Citing the need to …

A judge in Rome stopped the trial of four high-ranking Egyptian security forces on the opening day on Thursday student.

Citing the need to ensure a fair trial, Judge Antonella Capri overturned the decision to prosecute the four and ordered the records to be returned to the judges who must try again to track down the suspects. Their decision was a blow to the prosecutors, who have been trying for five years to bring Giulio Regeni’s murderers to justice.

Regeni’s body was found on a highway in the Egyptian capital days after his disappearance on January 25, 2016. He was in Cairo doing research on union activities among street vendors as part of his doctoral thesis.

Regeni’s mother said his body was so mutilated from torture that she could only see the tip of his nose when she looked at him. Human rights activists said the marks on his body are similar to those left by widespread torture in Egyptian security service facilities.

Italian prosecutors had indicted Police Major Sherif Magdy; Police Major Tareq Saber, who was a top state security officer at the time of Regeni’s abduction; Col. Hesham Helmy, who was in charge of monitoring the Cairo district where the Italian lived at a security center; and Col. Acer Kamal, who ran a police department responsible for road operations and disciplinary measures.

Defense lawyers had called for the trial to be suspended and stated that their clients had never been officially informed of the charges because they had not given any addresses and were therefore technically “undetectable”. Four empty chairs were left for her in the courtroom of the Rebibbia Bunker Court in Rome on Thursday.

“In Italy there can only be a trial against a person who can be found, the proceedings against a person who cannot be found must be suspended,” defense attorney Annalisa Ticconi told reporters in front of the courthouse.

“Year after year there is a review to see if the person can be found and the process can be restarted, but in the meantime the process and evidence are frozen,” she said.

Capri agreed, saying the law and the rights of the defense require her to be “certain”, that the defendants know the charges and the date of the trial, and that it is not enough to “assume” that they know.

Prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco had argued that the four of them knew very well that the trial was about to begin and yet had not appeared. Prosecutors have for years denounced Egypt’s obstructionism to cooperate in the investigation, and Colaiocco accused the four of “deliberately avoiding this trial in the hope that the trial will therefore stall and not continue”.

Regeni’s parents and sister were in the courtroom for the hearing but did not comment.

Her lawyer Alessandra Ballerini took note of Capri’s decision “with bitterness”. Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom late Thursday, she said Egypt’s “obstructionism and arrogance” had been rewarded but vowed that the family’s pursuit of justice would not cease and was only set back a few months.

She urged that the case be further publicized, especially the names of the defendants, “so that they cannot say they did not know”.

“We know that sooner or later we’ll be satisfied,” she said.

On the eve of the trial, the Italian government announced that it would join the civil trial as a victim.

Egyptian authorities have claimed that the Cambridge University graduate student fell victim to simple robbers.

The case strained relations between Italy and Egypt, an ally of Rome in the fight against terrorism. At some point Italy withdrew its ambassador to urge Egyptian cooperation in the investigation.

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