Daniel Zeichner MP addressing the crowdDaniel Gayne

A rally demanding the truth regarding the disappearance and death of Cambridge student Giulio Regeni took place today, led by Cambridge University Amnesty International and the Amnesty International Cambridge City Group.

Roughly 100 rally-goers stood in the drizzling rain outside St Mary’s Church to hear a range of speakers call for a full and transparent investigation. CUSU President Priscilla Mensah was among those expressing their support for the rally, saying: “There is no other place to be than to stand here in solidarity”.

The focus of the rally, which was supported by the Egypt Solidarity Initiative and local trade unions, was split between criticism of Egypt’s opaque investigation and poor human rights record, and of the British government’s slow response.

Eleanor Hegarty, the chair of Cambridge University Amnesty International, emphasised that this issue went beyond Regeni: “This is not just an isolated incident, scores of people have reportedly been disappeared under the government of Abed Fattah el-Sisi”, she said.

Indeed, a report from Reuters yesterday suggested that Regeni had been arrested and detained by plainclothes police as part of a general security sweep.

The report, gained from intelligence and police sources, went on to say that after being picked up near the Gamal Abdel Nasser metro station with another Egyptian man, he was taken to a homeland security facility.

According to an intelligence official, “they were transported in a white minibus with police license plates” to the Izbakiya police station, a fortress-like compound beneath a flyover near downtown Cairo.”

But Mohamed Ibrahim, an official in the media department of Homeland Security denied that Regeni had ever been held, saying: “If we had any suspicions concerning his activities the solution would have been simple: Expel him."

The British government also came under heavy fire at the rally, most notably from Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner who remarked that the British government had so far been “strangely quiet on this”. He claimed that he and other backbench MPs had questioned ministers on the matter but had heard little in reply.

“Our Government should be outraged”Daniel Gayne

The government did put out a new statement earlier in the week calling for a full investigation, but they were criticised after a leaked letter appeared in The Middle East Eye, from Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond to David Cameron expressing concerns about the Egyptian authorities handling of the case two weeks before the Foreign Office’s called for a full and transparent investigation.

“There is no sense of urgency”, Zeichner told Varsity afterwards. Elaborating on the government’s response, he claimed that the Minister had said he would be going to Egypt soon to raise the issue, but that “that was six weeks ago.”

Asked whether Britain was wrong to support Sisi’s government in the first place, Zeichner answered: “That’s a hard question, but I think we want to see a much stronger commitment to democracy from Egyptian government.”

“The British government haven’t been doing enough”Daniel Gayne

Hani El-Bay, a first-year Trinity student, had a personal connection to today’s rally, telling Varsity: “I’m from a half Egyptian family, and I care a lot about my country and the direction in which it is going, and I know people out there who’ve had terrible experiences from taking part in protests.”

El-Bay was under no illusions about the power of such protests, saying that “we shouldn’t think that this is going to make the Egyptian government say ok we’re going to tell you everything”. But he expressed hope that actions like the rally could force our own government to act.

“The British government haven’t been doing enough”, he said, suggesting that the government send more people to Egypt to apply pressure. “If we don’t start hearing answers, there is the option of sanctions”, he noted while expressing concern about the effects such a policy could have on ordinary Egyptians.

Asked whether politics should trump human rights, El-Bay was more ambivalent: “I think it’s a difficult balance, because Egypt is a vital country in terms of the security of the region… sometimes we have to have relations with countries with unsavoury governments.”

“It could have happened to any of us”Daniel Gayne

Cambridge University Amnesty International’s Cage Co-ordinator, Patrick Wernham, told Varsity that the rally was about “having our voices heard” and that he was impressed by the diversity of causes supporting the rally.

“Human rights are quite an abstract thing to think about” said Wernham on being asked why it takes an incident so close to home to get people protesting about human rights. He suggested that this particular case had drawn support because “it could have happened to any of us. […] Egyptians disappearing has been something that Amnesty has campaigned about for a few years.”

The final speaker, Dr Glen Ranglawa, a lecturer in the Department of POLIS, made a heartfelt and personal speech about his friend. Remembering Regeni fondly as “knowledgeable” and “always fun to talk to”, while sharing inside jokes they shared while working together at POLIS. He ended by emphasising that the various claims so far made by the Egyptian government regarding Regeni’s cause of death were “just not credible.”

On this note, the organisers brought the event to a close with a call for to keep campaigning, promising to fight until justice was done for Giulio Regeni and others who have disappeared in Egypt.