The British government has broken its silence over the torture and murder of the Cambridge student Giulio Regeni, saying it has raised his case with Egyptian authorities in London and Cairo and called for a full and transparent investigation.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued the statement after apetition circulated by the 28-year-old Italian’s friends and colleagues, calling on the UK government to take steps to ensure a full investigation into his death, was signed by more than 10,000 supporters.
It followsstinging criticism of the FCOby the Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who warned in a comment piece for the Huffington Post last week that the UK’s “ability to hold itself out as the world’s leading soft power is undermined when we do not take a public stand in support of our values”.
Blunt said the FCO needed to take steps to counter the perception that ministers had “deprioritised human rights”, and said giving “strong support” to the Italian government over the Regeni case would be “an excellent place to start”.
Regeni’s body was found in a roadside ditch just outside Cairo on 3 February, more than a week after he disappeared. Experts and activists believe the killing was almost certainly committed by Egypt’s notorious secret services, who are believed to be behind the disappearances of hundreds of Egyptians in recent months.
Italian relations with Egypt have become increasingly strained following allegations in Rome that Cairo has not been fully cooperative in the murder investigation and has refused tohand over mobile phone recordsthat Italian investigators believe could help identify where Regeni was when he disappeared.
Various theories put forward by Egyptian authorities, including that Regeni was tortured and killed by a criminal gang, have been dismissed as ludicrous inItaly.
On Sunday Italyrecalled its ambassadorMaurizio Massari from Egypt, in what was seen as an escalation in the row.
Massari was due to consult with Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, on Tuesday or Wednesday, but Italy’s foreign ministry has not specifically stated what other actions it might take to try to get answers fromEgypt.
Politicians have considered issuing a warning to Italian tourists that Egypt is unsafe, or freezing business dealings in Egypt.
The UK’s statement is not likely to create much more pressure on Egypt on its own. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, raised the issue of Egypt’s dismal record on human rights at a recent meeting with his Egyptian counterpart in Washington.
France’s François Hollande is due to meet with Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi this month in Cairo, where the two presidents are expected tosign defence deals worth €1bn.