ROME (AP) – A judge in Rome interrupted the trial of four high-ranking members of the Egyptian security forces on the day it opened on Thursday, saying there was no certainty that they had been officially informed that they were charged with the kidnapping, torture and murder in Cairo of an Italian doctoral student.
Citing the need to ensure a fair trial, Judge Antonella Capri overturned the decision to prosecute the four and ordered the return of the documents to the magistrates who must again attempt to locate the suspects. His decision was a blow to prosecutors who have been trying to bring Giulio Regeni’s killers to justice for five years.
Regeni’s body was found on a highway a few days after his disappearance in the Egyptian capital on January 25, 2016. He was in Cairo to investigate union activities among street vendors as part of his doctoral thesis.
Regeni’s mother said her body was so mutilated from the torture that she could not recognize the tip of her nose until she saw it. Human rights activists said the markings on his body resembled those resulting from widespread torture at Egyptian Security Agency facilities.
Italian prosecutors had accused Police Major Sherif Magdy; Police General Tareq Saber, who was a senior official in the Internal Security Agency at the time of Regeni’s kidnapping; Colonel Hesham Helmy, who served in a police security center in the Cairo neighborhood where the Italian lived, and Colonel Acer Kamal, who headed a police department responsible for street operations and discipline.
Defense lawyers had requested a stay of the trial, saying their clients were never officially informed of the charges because they had never provided addresses and were therefore technically “untraceable”. Four empty chairs were left for them on Thursday in the courtroom of the Rebibbia bunker court in Rome.
“In Italy, there can only be trials for people who can be traced, the trial for someone who cannot be found must be suspended,” defense lawyer Annalisa Ticconi told reporters outside the courthouse.
“Year after year there will be checks to see if the person can be found and the trial could resume, but in the meantime the trial and the evidence are frozen,” she said.
Capri agreed, saying that the law and the rights of the defense require it 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 that.
Prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco had argued that the four knew full well that the trial was starting and yet did not show up. For years, prosecutors have denounced Egypt’s obstructionism by refusing to cooperate with the investigation, and Colaiocco accused the four of deliberately “avoiding this trial and hoping that the trial would therefore be blocked and that” it would not continue ”.
Regeni’s parents and sister were in the courtroom for the hearing but made no comment.
Their lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini, noted Capri’s decision “with bitterness”. Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom on Thursday evening, she said Egypt’s “obstructionism and arrogance” had paid off, but vowed the family’s quest for justice would not stop not and had only been delayed for a few months.
She urged continued publicity on the case, especially the names of the defendants, “so they can’t say they didn’t know”.
“We know that sooner or later we will have satisfaction,” she said.
The Italian government announced on the eve of the trial that it would join the civil party in the trial as an injured party in the case.
Egyptian authorities alleged that the Cambridge University doctoral student was the victim of ordinary thieves.
The affair strained relations between Italy and Egypt, Rome’s ally in the fight against terrorism. At one point, Italy withdrew its ambassador to lobby for Egyptian cooperation in the investigation.