Egypt's interior minister said on Monday that he was "disturbed" that the interior ministry has been accused on social media of killing and torturing Giulio Regeni, an Italian Ph.D. student who had disappeared on Jan. 25.
The day Regeni disappeared also marked the fifth anniversary of the 2011 Uprising, which included demands for an end to police brutality. The 28-year-old Khaled Said, a middle class Egyptian in Alexandria, became an icon of protest after he had been beaten and tortured to death in police custody in 2010.
Magdy Abdel Ghaffar called the accusations that police murdered Regeni "rumours," adding at a press conference held at a National Security building that the police "are collecting" information so as to "reach the perpetrators of the incident and to bring them to justice in the quickest time."
The 28-year-old Regeni, who had been in Egypt since September researching independent trade unions and labour movements, was found murdered in a ditch on the outskirts of a Cairo-Alexandria desert road ten days after his disappearance.
Regeni's body was marred with signs of torture and bruises, the chief prosecutor for accidents in Egypt's South Giza said.
A senior official at the Cairo public prosecutor's office and a forensic doctor told Reuters, on condition of anonymity, that the initial autopsy in Egypt showed that Regeni was hit in the back of the head with a sharp instrument, beaten, and burnt with cigarettes.
A second autopsy in Italy, "confronted us with something inhuman, something animal," Italy's Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told Sky News 24 television. "It was like a punch in the stomach and we haven't quite got our breath back yet."
Italian media also reported that the second autopsy determined that Regeni's neck had been broken, although this has not been officially confirmed.
Media outlets have been pointing to the fact that such torture techniques are characteristic of the police, which has for decades been criticised by rights groups for its human rights violations against detainees.
The Italian newspaper La Stampa ran the headline, "Giulio, Egyptian police under accusation," soon after the student's murder.
Abdel Ghaffar said that what disturbed him about the accusations is that Egypt's security apparatus "has never before been accused of such charges," and that people are "following incorrect assumptions."
A Human Rights Watch report entitled, "Behind Closed Doors: Torture and Detention in Egypt," stated that detainees reported being burnt with cigarettes, among other abuses at the hands of police.
Simone Pieranni, a foreign desk editor at the left-wing Italian newspaper il Manifesto, told the Associated Press, "I imagine it was for security because the articles were about workers and unions."
"It's clear that when you speak about social rights and workers' rights in Egypt you are implicitly denouncing the lack of freedom," she said.
Regeni had been writing about labour rights in Egypt for il Manifesto under a pseudonym; days after his death, the newspaper published one of Regeni's pieces under his real name.
On Saturday, people gathered in front of the Italian embassy carrying signs that read, "Giulio was one of us, and he was killed like us," to mourn Regeni's murder.