Cambridge University has denounced a “campaign of denigration” aimed at implicating one of its lecturers in the murder of an Italian student in Egypt.
The “concerted efforts” against Dr Maha Abdelrahman happen despite her efforts to co-operate with the investigation, Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope said.
He said the rumours were “inaccurate, damaging and potentially dangerous”.
Giulio Regeni’s body was found dumped near Cairo in February 2016. He was researching independent trade unions.
Prof Toope said Dr Abdelrahman was questioned three times by Italian investigators – most recently last week – and handed over her computer and mobile phone.
“In light of her willingness to assist, the public campaign of denigration, fanned by political expediency, is shameful,” Prof Toope said in a statement, criticising leaks in the investigation.
“It is very disturbing, therefore, to find that she has been the victim of seemingly concerted efforts to implicate her directly in Giulio’s death.”
Even though there is no suggestion Dr Abdelrahman was involved in Regeni’s murder, Italian investigators want to determine her role in the student’s research, how he came to his subject and whether anyone put him in harm’s way.
Dr Abdelrahman is Egyptian and was a professor of sociology in Cairo before joining the Cambridge Centre of Development Studies in 2007. She reportedly said Regeni had freely chosen his PhD research topic.
The subject is sensitive in Egypt, where the government has intensified a crackdown on unofficial protest movements in recent years.
In an open letter last December, 344 academics expressed their support to Dr Abdelrahman after the Italian newspaper La Repubblica suggested she had commissioned a research on a topic she knew was controversial.
Egypt has denied accusations that Regeni died in custody. However, officials have admitted that the security services, often accused by activists of human rights abuses, were monitoring him.