ROME — A judge in Rome on Thursday postponed a hearing to decide if four high-ranking members of Egypt’s security forces should go on trial for the abduction, torture and killing in Cairo of an Italian doctoral student.
In December, Italian prosecutors, who are seeking trial indictment, formally put the four Egyptians under investigation for their alleged roles in the 2016 slaying of Giulio Regeni.
Thursday was supposed to be the first hearing before a judge, who will then decide whether to order trial. But a postponement was granted until May 25 because one of the lawyers for the Egyptians had tested positive for COVID-19, said Tranquillino Sarno, another defense lawyer in the case.
If trial is ordered, it is widely expected that the suspects would be tried in absentia.
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.
Regeni’s parents and their lawyer came for the hearing but made no comment. Preliminary hearings are closed to the public.
Prosecutors have indicated that Egyptian security officials suspected that Regeni was aiming to foment a revolution and that he might have been working for U.S. or Israeli intelligence services.
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 probe.
Sen. Gregorio De Falco said outside the courthouse that pressure needed to be kept up, calling on Italian citizens, “in their own way, to do something, such as not going to Egypt” on vacations.