By ANDREA ROSA and NICOLE WINFIELD
ROME (AP) — The trial of four high-ranking members of Egypt’s security forces opened Thursday without the Egyptians on hand to face charges that they were involved in the abduction, torture and killing in Cairo of an Italian doctoral student.
Defense lawyers immediately called for the trial to be suspended, saying their clients had never been formally notified of the charges and are technically “untraceable.” Prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco said the four knew very well the trial was beginning and yet failed to show up.
The tribunal judges were meeting to decide whether and how the trial could go on.
Giulio Regeni’s body was found on a highway days after he disappeared in the Egyptian capital on Jan. 25, 2016. He was in Cairo to research union activities among street vendors as part of his doctoral thesis.
His mother has said his body was so mutilated by torture that she was only able to recognize the tip of his nose when she viewed it. Human rights activists have said the marks on his body resembled those resulting from widespread torture in Egyptian facilities.
In December, Italian prosecutors formally put the four Egyptians under investigation, and a judge ordered them to stand trial in May. It has always been expected that they would be tried in absentia.
During Thursday’s proceedings, prosecutor Colaiocco accused the suspects of purposefully “avoiding this trial and hoping that the trial would therefore get stuck and it would not go ahead.”
Defense attorney Annalisa Ticconi said the accused never gave a known address to authorities and the Italian state doesn’t know where they are. “In Italy there can be a trial only for traceable people, the trial for an untraceable person must be suspended,” she told reporters outside the courthouse.
“Year by year there will be checks to see if the person can be found and the trial could restart, but in the meantime, the trial and the evidence is frozen,” she said.
Regeni’s parents and sister were in the courtroom for the hearing but made no comment. Their lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini, told the court the level of torture committed against Regeni could only have been carried out at a facility of the Egyptian National Security force.
“He was tortured with instruments … that a common person doesn’t have. This was something that a common person cannot do,” she said.
The Italian government announced on the eve of the trial that it would join the trial’s civil portion as an injured party in the case.
Egyptian authorities have alleged that the Cambridge University doctoral student fell victim to ordinary robbers.
The case strained relations between Italy and Egypt, an ally for Rome in efforts to combat terrorism. At one point, Italy withdrew its ambassador to press for Egyptian cooperation in the investigation.
On the eve of the trial, the president of Italy’s lower chamber of deputies, Roberto Fico, sent his support to Regeni’s parents “for their tenacity and their humanity.”
“If we look back over the years, and think of the enormous effort it took to get here, to reconstruct a plot despite Egyptian misdirections and resistance of all kinds, we understand how important and full of meaning” the opening of the trial really is, he said.
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