Four Egyptian security agents will be tried in absentia in Italy on Thursday for the brutal murder in Cairo five years ago of Italian student Giulio Regeni.
The officers are charged with kidnapping, conspiracy to murder and serious bodily injury in the case, sparking outrage in Italy and straining diplomatic relations with Egypt.
Regeni, 28, who was doing research for a Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, was abducted in January 2016. Her body, with great signs of torture, was finally found dumped on the outskirts of Cairo.
Italian Chancellor Luigi Di Maio welcomed the first hearing in Rome as “an unexpected result in the weeks after the discovery of Giulio’s body”, when the case seemed unsolvable.
But the trial may collapse before it begins.
The court must decide whether the four suspects are aware of the judicial process against them, as required by law. Egypt has refused to provide their contact details.
At a preliminary hearing in May, a judge ruled that media coverage meant that news of the investigation of the four would have reached them. That decision can be upheld or overturned by the court on Thursday.
The four appear in court documents as General Tariq Sabir, Colonels Athar Kamel and Uhsam Helmi and Major Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif, accused of carrying out the murder.
Investigators believe Regeni was kidnapped and killed after being mistaken for a foreign spy.
Prosecutor Michele Prestipino told a parliamentary committee in December that there was “significant evidence” implicating Egyptian officials in the murder, an accusation rejected by Egypt.
His team alleges that Sharif got the informants to follow Regeni, arrested him and caused him “acute physical suffering”. Regeni’s teeth were broken and her hands and feet were fractured. He died of suffocation.
Regeni’s legal team has requested that all of Italy’s prime ministers and foreign ministers since 2016 be called as witnesses, along with the heads of the country’s secret services, according to media reports.
But court-appointed defense attorney Tranquillino Sarno told AFP that the trial “will stand or fall” if key eyewitnesses in the prosecutor’s case came to Rome to testify in person.
Regeni’s body was found nine days after she disappeared. His mother later said that he had been so badly mutilated that she only recognized her son by “the tip of his nose.”
As part of her work for a doctorate, Regeni had been researching Egyptian trade unions, a particularly sensitive political issue.
His assassination sparked fresh criticism of Egypt’s human rights record under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Claudio Francavilla of Human Rights Watch told reporters in Rome on Wednesday that the trial was being closely watched as “a symbol of hope for Egyptians.”