Background Briefing


Mohamed Bilasi-Ashri (Update)3

In 2005 the Austrian government renewed its efforts to extradite Egyptian national Mohamed Bilasi-Ashri, wanted in his home country, using diplomatic assurances.

The Court of Appeal in Vienna first ordered Bilasi-Ashri’s extradition to Egypt in November 2001. Bilasi-Ashri had previously been sentenced in absentia in Egypt to 15 years of hard labor for alleged involvement in an Islamist extremist group.The court considered Bilasi-Ashri’s claim that he would be at risk of torture or ill-treatment and would not be given a fair trial upon return, but concluded that “Egypt was not a country where serious large scale violations of human rights could be considered an institutionalised everyday practice … [t]hus there was no general obstacle to extradition.”4The Court of Appeal dismissed evidence that members of Islamist groups in Egypt are frequently subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including electric shocks, beatings, burning, and various forms of psychological abuse.The court also determined that Bilasi-Ashri’s pending asylum application did not preclude his extradition.

Despite the surprising finding that Bilasi-Ashri’s fear of torture was unfounded, the Court of Appeal in its 2001 ruling conditioned his extradition upon receiving diplomatic assurances from the Egyptian authorities that Bilasi-Ashri’s conviction in absentia would be declared null and void, that he would be retried before an ordinary (civilian) criminal court, and that he would not be persecuted or suffer restrictions upon his personal freedom.On November 12, 2001, the Austrian federal minister of justice approved the extradition, subject to the conditions set forth in the Court of Appeal decision, and added a condition that Bilasi-Ashri be permitted to leave Egyptian territory within 45 days in the event of acquittal. The Egyptian authorities subsequently rejected the conditions laid out in the extradition order, and so Bilasi-Ashri was released from detention in Austria in August 2002.

In early 2005 the Austrian authorities approached the Egyptian government again, reiterating their request for diplomatic assurances in a renewed effort to extradite Bilasi-Ashri. The Egyptian government agreed a set of diplomatic assurances in February 2005, and extradition proceedings commenced in May.  In June the Krems Regional Court declared Bilasi-Ashri’s extradition permissible.5 The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on November 17, 2005, communicated an order for interim measures to the Austrian authorities on the application of Bilasi-Ashri’s lawyers, requesting that the government not extradite Bilasi-Ashri until the ECtHR reviewed his application.6  The application argues possible violations of articles 3 (prohibition of torture and ill-treatment), 5 (right to liberty and security of person), and 6 (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights if Bilasi-Ashri is returned to Egypt. As of January 1, 2007, the human rights court had yet to consider the application.

3 Human Rights Watch, “Empty Promises,” pp. 23-33. See also Human Rights Watch, Commentary on State Replies: CDDH Questionnaire on Diplomatic Assurances, March 27, 2006,,  pp. 2-3.

4 European Court of Human Rights, Bilasi-Ashri v. Austria, (App. 3314/02), 26 November 2002, section A.5. Descriptions of the Austrian court decision are taken from this subsequent European Court of Human Rights decision.

5 Amnesty International Urgent Action, Austria: Risk of Forcible Return/Torture: Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahmin Bilasi-Ashri, October 7, 2005, (accessed January 1, 2007).

6 European Court of Human Rights, First Section Annual Activity Report 2005, Bilasi-Ashri v. Austria,  (App. 40902/05), January 2006, (accessed January 1, 2007), p. 18.