Background Briefing


Mohammed al-Zari and Ahmed Agiza (Update)35

Asylum seekers Mohammed al-Zari and Ahmed Agiza were transferred from Stockholm to Cairo in December 2001 aboard a United States government-leased airplane. The government of Sweden expelled al-Zari and Agiza, both suspected of terrorist activities, following written assurances from the Egyptian authorities that they would not be subject to the death penalty, tortured, or ill-treated, and would receive fair trials. Swedish and Egyptian authorities also agreed on a post-return monitoring mechanism involving visits to the men in prison. The men had no opportunity under Swedish law to challenge the legality of their expulsions or the reliability of the Egyptian assurances.

In May 2004 a Swedish television news program, “Kalla Fakta,” revealed that the two men were apprehended and physically assaulted by Swedish police; handed over to the custody of hooded US operatives at Stockholm’s Bromma airport who cut off the men’s clothing and blindfolded, hooded, diapered, and drugged them; and then transported aboard a US government-leased Gulfstream jet to Cairo.36 The involvement of the US in the men’s transfers has since been confirmed by the Swedish government.37

Agiza and al-Zari were held incommunicado for five weeks after their return. Despite monthly visits thereafter by Swedish diplomats, none of them in private, both men credibly alleged to their lawyers and family members—and, indeed, to Swedish diplomats as well—that they had been tortured and ill-treated in detention.Agiza remains in prison to date after a patently unfair retrial in April 2004.38 Al-Zari was released without charge or trial in October 2003 and remains under surveillance by Egyptian security forces, and reports regularly to the police. He is not permitted to speak with journalists or human rights groups.

The UN Human Rights Committee in November 2006 concluded that Sweden’s involvement in the US transfer of Mohammed al-Zari to Egypt breached the absolute ban on torture, despite assurances of humane treatment provided by Egyptian authorities prior to the rendition. The committee stated that Sweden “has not shown that the diplomatic assurances procured were in fact sufficient in the present case to eliminate the risk of ill-treatment to a level consistent” with the ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 39

The decision follows a May 2005 determination by the UN Committee Against Torture in Ahmed Agiza’s case. The committee held that Sweden violated the ban on torture with respect to Ahmed Agiza’s transfer, stating that the “procurement of diplomatic assurances [from Egypt], which, moreover, provided no mechanism for their enforcement, did not suffice to protect against this manifest risk.”40 

Mohammed al-Zari is currently seeking monetary compensation from Sweden for physical and psychological rehabilitation, and permanent residency in Sweden in order to join his family who reside there.

35 Human Rights Watch, Still at Risk, pp. 57-66; “Empty Promises,” pp. 33-36.

36 “The Broken Promise” (English transcript), “Kalla Fakta,” Swedish TV4, May 17, 2004,

37 The Swedish security police released two memorandums in late May 2004 confirming the US’s involvement in the transfers and the fact that the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs was aware of US involvement. Copies of memoranda on file with Human Rights Watch.

38 “Sweden Implicated in Egypt’s Abuse of Suspected Militant: Egypt Violated Diplomatic Promises of Fair Trial and No Torture for Terrorism Suspect,”Human Rights Watch news release, May 5, 2004,

39 UN Human Rights Committee, Decision: Alzery v. Sweden, CCPR/C/88/D/1416/2005, November 10, 2006, (accessed January 1, 2007), para. 11.5.

40 UN Committee Against Torture, Decision: Agiza v. Sweden, CAT/C/34/D/233/2003, May 20, 2005, (accessed January 1, 2007), para. 13.4.