Cambridge remembers Giulio Regeni, two years after his disappearance

On this day in 2016, a Cambridge PhD student went missing in Egypt before being found dead. Two years on, the truth has yet to emerge.


On Thursday evening a moving vigil was held in memory of Giulio Regeni, a Girton student, for whose murder no one has yet been held accountable. Meeting outside St Mary's Church, the event was organised by Cambridge University Amnesty International (CUAI) to coincide with other gatherings across the UK and Italy. Two minutes of silence were held at 7:41 pm, the time when Regeni last made contact with friends by phone.

The candle-lit vigil was attended by over 100 students, academics and city residents, including a strong representation of the university's Italian Society. Notable attendants included local MP Daniel Zeichner and Alex Mayer, MEP for East of England, who both gave speeches in support of the Truth for Giulio campaign. The Amnesty International campaign has organised several events to occur over the next few months, each highlighting the need for Giulio's murderers to see justice.

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Members of Amnesty International at the vigil

Regeni was in Egypt to research labour trade union movements for his PhD thesis. His body, showing marks of extensive torture, was found a week after his disappearance. With no one ever charged for the murder, many have suggested the involvement of the Egyptian government. Speaking to the Tab, Zeichner claimed he was "pretty convinced" that "the Egyptian government… will hold responsibility finally" and that "they would do much better to come clean on this now".

The Cambridge MP has consistently called for the British government to put greater pressure on their Egyptian counterpart. On Thursday night he stressed that he would "continue to press for a proper debate in Parliament", so that a minister could be held accountable for the diplomatic measures the government was taking in Egypt. He dismissed allegations in the Italian media that Cambridge University has failed to cooperate in the investigation, insisting he was "confident that the university authorities are doing all they can."

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Daniel Zeichner addressing the crowd

Whilst the primary purpose of the vigil was to call for the truth about Regeni's murder, CUAI chairperson Laura Bates emphasised that the murder constituted a broader attack on academic freedom. In an interview after the vigil, Bates said that Regeni's death "is something that should make us angry. This is something that is completely unacceptable. No one should ever die in the course of their academic research, and especially when no one has ever been brought to justice." She also added that CUAI would continue to put pressure on the Egyptian government. On 2 February a group of Amnesty International volunteers will hand a petition to the Egyptian embassy, demanding for the truth to be revealed.

Given the circumstances of the murder, the mood of the vigil was understandably sombre. Mario, a friend of Regeni, refused to see the occasion this way. Addressing the gathered crowd, he asked why he should be sad "when surrounded by people who want to know the truth?" Mario closed the evening by providing a personal memory of his friend, playing the trumpet, an instrument Giulio himself had played.