Statement from the University on the death of Giulio Regeni and malicious allegations made about the conduct of Dr Maha Abdelrahman, 14 December 2020
Almost five years since the death of Giulio Regeni, a PhD student at our university, Italian prosecutors have gathered enough evidence to charge four Egyptian officials.
Despite this very significant development, some voices in the media remain inexplicably determined to point fingers at Giulio’s supervisor, Dr Maha Abdelrahman. Press reports have rehashed old and baseless assertions that she did not cooperate with the original investigation. These are malicious and defamatory accusations, with no basis in evidence. A full account of Prof Abdelrahman’s record of collaborations with the investigators can be found in our earlier statements.
Press reports continue to misrepresent the nature of the relationship between Giulio and Dr Abdelrahman. This demonstrates a fundamental – and continued – lack of understanding about the nature of academic research, and about the intellectual relationship between PhD students and their supervisors, which is one of support, critique and advice rather than instruction. He was an experienced researcher, with experience of field work in Egypt, working on legal independent trade unions that were also being researched by many others at the time.
This latest round of misinformation has triggered unjust and unjustified vilification of an honourable scholar. It has led to harassment and threats. The reiteration of such damaging insinuations is scurrilous and irresponsible.
The University of Cambridge welcomes the move by Italian prosecutors to charge four individuals directly connected with Giulio’s disappearance, torture and death. We stand with Giulio’s family, friends and colleagues in the search for justice and truth.
Prof Stephen J Toope
A message from the Vice-Chancellor to the academic community, 16 January 2018
"It has been almost two years since the murder of Giulio Regeni, a Cambridge student, in Cairo. As we approach this anniversary, we are no nearer to knowing the truth of what happened to this promising post-graduate, tortured and killed while pursuing wholly legitimate academic research. Once again, we recognise the deep pain experienced by Giulio’s family, which nothing can relieve.
In our community, the sense of hurt and outrage has not abated. His murder was an affront to all of us. It remains an affront to the values of openness, freedom of thought and freedom of academic enquiry that our University stands for. The heinous manner of Giulio’s death has diminished us all.
It has been especially troubling to note that, in the absence of apparent progress in investigations into Giulio’s death, attention has been turned to his doctoral supervisor, Dr Maha Abdelrahman – an honourable and distinguished scholar.
An investigation led by Italian authorities, with the help of Cambridgeshire police, is underway. As Giulio’s supervisor, Dr Abdelrahman is a witness in this investigation, and has cooperated fully.
It is very disturbing, therefore, to find that she has been the victim of seemingly concerted efforts to implicate her directly in Giulio’s death.
Public speculation about Dr Abdelrahman’s involvement in the case has been inaccurate, damaging and potentially dangerous. It stems from a fundamental misapprehension about the nature of academic research. It demonstrates a lack of understanding of scholarly aims and methods. It shows a failure to understand the intellectual relationship between a PhD student and his or her supervisor.
It is not uncommon for academic research in the humanities and social sciences to impinge on politically sensitive issues. Giulio was an experienced researcher, who had already spent time in Egypt, and was a fluent Arabic speaker. He was using standard academic methods to study trade unions in Egypt.
Since Giulio’s death was confirmed in February 2016, Dr Abdelrahman and the University of Cambridge have repeatedly expressed their willingness to cooperate with the investigation. Last week, Dr Abdelrahman welcomed the opportunity to speak again to Italian investigators in Cambridge – the third time she has answered their questions – and voluntarily handed over material requested by them.
In light of her willingness to assist, the public campaign of denigration, fanned by political expediency, is shameful.
The University has sought all opportunities – public and private, formal and informal – to push for progress in the investigation into Giulio’s death. It has urged Egyptian, Italian and British authorities to pursue all avenues of investigation to arrive at the truth.
Throughout, the University has been respectful of legal constraints (including on the ability to comment publicly) posed by the continuing legal process. It has been particularly disappointing, then, to see that the same restraint has not applied in other domains, where the confidentiality of the legal process has been blatantly ignored.
The University will of course continue to assist authorities as they seek justice for Giulio and his family. It will also defend the right of academics to engage in legitimate and lawful research, wherever they wish to do so.
As well as doing everything it can to ensure that the death of one of its students is redressed, the University of Cambridge is committed to ensuring that the reputation and wellbeing of its scholars are always safeguarded.
This brutal killing calls for justice. But justice will not be served by undermining the very thing that drove Giulio in his brief but inspiring academic career – the search for truth."
Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor
Statement updated 7 December 2017
The University of Cambridge has repeatedly expressed its willingness to cooperate with the investigation into Giulio Regeni’s murder, and has urged Italian prosecutors to hasten any formal proceedings. The University has recently been made aware of a formal request for testimony issued by Italian prosecutors. Both the University and Dr. Abdelrahman are cooperating fully. A range of dates has been mutually agreed for Dr Abdelrahman’s deposition. We strongly reject any suggestion that Dr Abdelrahman has deliberately postponed or delayed her testimony.
Statement updated 2 November 2017
Regarding recent media reports about Italian prosecutors' request to interview Giulio Regeni's PhD supervisor:
We will not respond to unhelpful and sensationalist speculations. Dr Maha Abdelrahman has repeatedly expressed her willingness to cooperate fully with Italian prosecutors. We have still not received the formal request for her testimony, and look forward to receiving one as quickly as possible, as we have repeatedly urged. It would be wholly inappropriate, and in breach of process, for Dr Abdelrahman to talk to the media before she has given her testimony to Italian authorities.
Statement updated 6 September 2017
The murder of Giulio Regeni, a member of our University, caused much sorrow and pain among his friends, colleagues and teachers in Cambridge. Our community has mourned his death, and has been shocked and enraged by its brutality.
Since we received confirmation of Giulio’s death, the University has engaged repeatedly with Egyptian officials, demanding justice. We have been in frequent contact with Italian authorities, and offered to cooperate. We have engaged representatives in Italy to make direct contact with the Italian prosecutors and offer every assistance. We have raised our concerns with MPs and MEPs. And we have repeatedly urged the British government to ensure that progress is made in Giulio’s case. All of these avenues have been pursued vigorously, both in publicly available correspondence and in private meetings.
It has been deeply frustrating for the University, which has no investigative or policing powers of its own, to have to rely on the incomplete (and even misleading) information that has emerged from the investigation so far. Misreporting and misleading leaks have been seriously detrimental to the emergence of the truth in Giulio’s case.
Our sole concern has been —and remains— a desire for the truth and to ensure that the investigation is carried out in full and without obstruction.
Statement updated 30 January 2017
A year on from Giulio Regeni’s disappearance and death, the University of Cambridge once again expresses its deepest solidarity and sympathy with his family, friends and colleagues.
The University of Cambridge has renewed its call for a full investigation into the events surrounding his brutal murder.
On 20 January, University officials met with Labour MEP for the East of England, Alex Mayer, who subsequently led a demonstration in the European Parliament, in Brussels, demanding justice in the Regeni case. This follows on from the University of Cambridge’s earlier correspondence with both Italy's and Egypt's ministries of Foreign Affairs, in which the University repeatedly demanded a thorough and complete investigation into the circumstances of Giulio’s tragic death.
Giulio’s loss has had a profound effect on people in Cambridge, in Italy and beyond. Once again, we raise our voice as part of a world-wide community demanding truth and justice for Giulio and his family.
Statement updated 8 September 2016
Our thoughts are with Giulio’s family and friends at this distressing time, and we echo calls for the investigation into Giulio’s brutal and senseless murder to be pursued with a renewed sense of urgency.
We have responded to the Italian authorities’ request of 2 August for documentation related to Giulio, which was the first such request received by the University.
The University remains ready to assist with any further requests for information or assistance.
Statement updated 4 August 2016
The University of Cambridge has not refused to cooperate with the Italian authorities.
The first request from Italian authorities for documentation related to Giulio was received by the University on 2 August, six days after the Italian Prime Minister's claims that the University was refusing to cooperate with the investigation.
We are fully complying with the request, which came at the University's invitation, following offers of assistance by us.
Our understanding is that, as has been previously stated, Giulio's supervisor, Dr Maha Abdelrahman, had already answered Italian prosecutors' questions on two occasions. On the first occasion, she was approached by prosecutors while at Giulio's funeral and asked to come to a police station for immediate questioning. Despite this being an enormously distressing time for her, she answered prosecutors' questions for an hour and a half.
Italian prosecutors subsequently arrived in Cambridge on the day of Giulio's memorial service. We believe that Maha answered in full the supplementary questions they provided. The Italian authorities have given no response to her answers, despite continued coverage in the Italian media alleging that they were 'inadequate'. We are not aware that the Italian authorities have made any request for further information.
Despite her own distress at Giulio's death, we understand that Maha remains ready to talk to the Italian prosecutors should they make a request through normal channels. This has not yet happened.
Misinformation about the investigation into Giulio's death has caused a great deal of distress to those in Cambridge who knew him as a cherished friend and colleague, and does nothing to further his family's efforts to discover the truth about his death.
We are deeply disturbed that false claims that the University is unwilling to cooperate continue to circulate. Constant leaks and misreporting not only reduce the pressure on the Egyptians to get to the truth but detract attention from what should be the focus of the Italian investigation – to find out who killed Giulio.
This death was not just a tragedy for the family, but an assault on academic freedom. Giulio was an experienced researcher using standard academic methods to study trade unions in Egypt. Groundless speculation undermines efforts to bring to justice those who killed him.
Statement updated 20 June 2016
The University of Cambridge continues to use every avenue to discover the truth about the brutal murder of Giulio Regeni. Despite media reports, it has not refused to cooperate with the Italian authorities.
We understand the frustration of Italian prosecutors with the conclusions that have been put forward so far by the Egyptian authorities. The University has pressed the Egyptian authorities to explain Giulio’s death. We have also called on the British government to bring pressure to bear and have backed the Italian government's efforts to find the truth*.
However, the lack of response from Egypt should not divert attention from the search for truth, to which the University is fully committed. To be clear, the central University authorities have not received any request for help from Italian prosecutors and remain ready to react quickly to any request for assistance. One individual academic at Cambridge has received a request from Italian prosecutors and has already responded to all their questions on two occasions.
This death was not just a tragedy for the family, but an assault on academic freedom. Giulio was an experienced researcher using standard academic methods to study trade unions in Egypt. He embodied the values and the mission of Cambridge - "to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research".
Wild and unfounded speculation undermines efforts to bring to justice those who killed him.
We remain disturbed at the conclusions that have been put forward so far by the Egyptian authorities. We share the Italian government’s concern at the wild and unfounded rumours that have circulated, which we believe have been detrimental to understanding what happened.
As a community mourning the death of a friend and valued colleague, the University, Girton College and the Department of Politics and International Studies have one desire – to understand the truth about Giulio’s barbaric death.
*Details of action taken by the University can be seen in previous statements (below), as well as tributes to Giulio from colleagues and friends.
Statement updated 20 May 2016
In light of recent news from Egypt the University has contacted Giulio Regeni's parents offering its continued support and reiterating its calls for a full and transparent investigation into his brutal death. Eilís Ferran, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Institutional and International Relations has also contacted the Egyptian Consular General in the UK expressing the University's continuing concerns about the state of the investigation into Giulio's murder. This letter has been copied to the Italian Ambassador to the UK and to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Susan Smith, the Mistress of Girton College has also expressed her concerns to the British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson at "the limited credibility of the far from transparent investigation that appears to have taken place into Giulio Regeni's death." Asking Mr Casson to do more to secure a proper inquiry she added: "Quite apart from the personal tragedy this incident represents, and the violation of human rights it embodies, it is an affront to the principles of scholarship on which the British Higher Education system is founded."
Professor David Runciman, Head of Department at POLIS, this week requested updates from the Egyptian Consular General, following his initial contact with Mr Youssef in February. In his latest letter he states: "I would like to know what is being done to uncover the truth and what I can tell Giulio's friends and colleagues in Cambridge about the circumstances of his terrible death."
Statement updated 9 February 2016
Tributes have been paid to PhD researcher Giulio Regeni who has died in Egypt. The 28-year-old was a member of Girton College, conducting his PhD research in the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS); he was in Cairo as part of his work.
Professor David Runciman, Head of Department at POLIS, said: “I wish to express my profound shock and sadness at the death of our student Giulio Regeni. Our very deepest sympathy goes out to Giulio’s family and his many friends.”
Professor Susan Smith, Mistress of Girton, said: “Giulio was a warm-hearted, much-loved and highly-respected member of Girton's close-knit graduate community: his untimely death has shaken us to the core. As we mourn the loss of a scholar, colleague and friend, our first thoughts are with his family, and those closest to him, at this impossibly difficult time.”
The Vice-Chancellor of the University, the Mistress of Girton and the Head of the Centre of Development Studies have all been in contact with Giulio’s family to offer their deepest condolences.
On Friday Professor Runciman also wrote, in conjunction with Girton College, to the Egyptian Consul General in London to convey the University’s sense of shock and to ask to be kept informed of the progress of the investigation into the circumstances of Giulio’s death, as a matter of urgency. [The text of this letter is published below].
The request has been acknowledged and the Department and College will pursue this and any other means to try to discover the truth behind this appalling event.
The Mistress of Girton has further written to the British Ambassador in Egypt as follows: “I am the Head of Girton College at the University of Cambridge, where Giulio Regeni was studying until his recent death in Cairo.
“I write on behalf of the College and in conjunction with the Head of the Department of Political and International Studies, Professor David Runciman, to ask your office for help in securing a full investigation into the circumstances of Giulio Regeni's death, with a view to bringing those responsible to justice.”
The Department and College will discuss with Giulio’s family and friends how to best commemorate his life and work, and plans for a memorial event will be announced in due course. Events were held in the Department and in Girton last week to remember Giulio and to mourn his loss. Girton's flag is at half-mast, and will fly in his honour all week.
Letter to Egyptian Consul General
5th February 2016
Dear Mr. Youssef,
It is with huge sadness that I have learnt of the loss of one of our PhD students, Giulio Regeni.
Giulio was on a field study trip in Cairo, contributing towards his doctoral work on the Egyptian economy. He was found dead in the capital on 3 February 2016.
We take the welfare of our students very seriously. It is hard for Giulio’s family and for us to comprehend how such a talented student could meet his death in the Egyptian capital as he carried out his important academic research. We note that the Italian authorities have urged you to conduct a thorough investigation with the participation of Italian experts and we, too, call on you to conduct a thorough and complete investigation into this tragic incident.
I would like to be kept informed of the progress of the investigation.
Professor David Runciman
University statement issued on February 6.
We are deeply saddened to hear news of the death of Giulio Regeni. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. The Vice-Chancellor and the Mistress of Girton College have been in contact with Giulio's family and are acting in accordance with their wishes.
The University has also written to the Egyptian Consulate calling on the Egyptian authorities to conduct a full investigation into Giulio's death. We continue to monitor the situation closely.
In memory of Giulio Regeni
If you wish to, please submit your memories of Giulio Regeni. POLIS will collate these into a page of memories of Giulio.
Understandably, many University members will feel affected by Giulio's tragic death. The University Counselling Service is aware of the situation. Some might find the information on their website of help: http://www.counselling.cam.ac.uk/selfhelp/selfleafpdf/bereav/view . Do not hesitate to contact them if you need additional support: http://www.counselling.cam.ac.uk/.
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.