Reprieve calls on Albania to allow ex-Guantánamo prisoner Sherif Almeshad’s return home to Egypt

March 27, 2012

Image of a man in prison

In a Tirana press conference today, Reprieve’s Katie Taylor will describe how the Albanian authorities are unnecessarily preventing the return home of an innocent former ex-Guantánamo prisoner to Egypt. 

Albania gave refuge to Sherif Almeshad following his release without charge from US custody in 2010, when it was feared that he would face persecution and torture should he return to his native Egypt. However, since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, this threat has been lifted, and Mr Almeshad is now desperate to return home and be reunited with his family. 

Given that the Government of post-revolutionary Egypt has provided written diplomatic assurances to the Albanian government that Mr Almeshad will be welcomed back to Egypt and faces no risks there, it is not clear why Albania continues to prevent his return.

Albanian law explicitly affirms the right of foreigners to leave the country and international law states that no one may be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. Furthermore, other European countries—including an EU member state—which have resettled former Guantanamo prisoners have permitted them to return to their homelands in response to the positive political changes created by the Arab Spring.

Reprieve’s Life After ex-Guantánam Caseworker, Katie Taylor, said: “Albania did the right thing when it took in Sherif when he had nowhere else to go. But now that the situation has changed in Egypt, it is time to let him go home. After an ordeal that has spanned a decade, Sherif just wants to be with his family again. Letting him go will cost Albania nothing – and would be a fitting conclusion to the important part they have played in righting the wrongs of Guantanamo.

ENDS

Notes to editors

1.For further information please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0) 20 7427 1082 / (0) 7791 755 415 or go to http://www.reprieve.org.uk/cases/sherifelmashad/

2.Sherif Almeshad was an upwardly mobile young business owner living in Italy when he was seized after crossing the border into Pakistan as he fled fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan. He was held without charge for eight years in ex-Guantánamo Bay. Before his capture, Sherif had lived a happy life as a legal Italian resident for over four years running a painting and decorating business. His dream was relatively simple: to support his family back home in Egypt, and live a quiet compassionate life. It was a dream shattered by the events that followed 9/11.  In July 2001, before anyone could have envisaged the events in New York later that year would change the world, Sherif left his home in Como to travel to Afghanistan to undertake charity work for two months.  It was a decision that would change his life, which until then had been peaceful and happy. Sherif was born into a large, secular family on December 14, 1976, in Egypt.  His mother is an Assistant Principal at a middle school. His father passed away in 1997. Sherif was an exemplary student throughout primary and secondary school—he had many friends, and was well liked by his former teachers. He was a natural athlete, and would later join a competitive swimming and diving team after graduating from secondary school. He also had a talent for carpentry and craftsmanship, which led him to enroll in a technical school. After graduating, he spent 3 years working in Sinai at some of Egypt’s largest beach resorts.  There Sherif first began to pick up Italian, from the large Italian tourist base. In 1997, after his father died, Sherif wanted to find better paying work outside of Egypt because, as the oldest son, he felt responsible for providing for his family.  Accordingly, he set out for Como, Italy to live with his uncle, an Italian citizen, so that he could find work. After securing a permesso di soggiorno, he first worked at a restaurant, and then a bar, but his knack for crafts led him to find work with Italian painting companies Alphonso Pretti and Cannella. After apprenticing for about two years, Sherif obtained a license from the Chamber of Commerce in Como to work as an independent contractor.  He owned his own company, called “Sherif El Mashad,” running the business out of his house.  Sherif paid his taxes regularly and never had problems with the Italian authorities. In the spring of 2001, Sherif met a wealthy Kuweiti businessman. He encouraged Sherif to travel to Afghanistan to do charity work.  Sherif saw this as a dual opportunity.  He could network with a wealthy businessman, while also helping those less fortunate than he by distributing food, clothes, and blankets. Sherif often analogizes this to organizing a charity gala with a prospective business partner. With this in mind, Sherif booked a round-trip ticket, intending to stay in Afghanistan for a couple of months, then return home to work.  Indeed, just two days before he left Italy in July 2001, Sherif had billed a customer almost €15,000 for painting services.  Sherif spent less than two months in Afghanistan before 9/11.  The invasion of Afghanistan followed soon thereafter.  The region deteriorated into violence and chaos, and he could not safely escape the country.  When he finally made it across the border to Pakistan, he was seized by Pakistani authorities and handed over to the Americans, apparently for a bounty. At that time, the US offered enormous bounties for any foreigners found in Pakistan, and former Pakistani President Musharraf boasts in his autobiography about the “millions of dollars” he and his security services earned by selling foreigners to the American military. The US military shipped Sherif to prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, site of notorious US abuses. The routine at Kandahar included severe beatings, exposure to freezing temperatures, sleep deprivation for hours on end, and suspending prisoners by their wrists. Sherif remained imprisoned there until roughly February 2002. He was then transferred to Guantánamo Bay, where he was confined for eight years before being released to Albania. The change in government in Egypt in late February 2011 signalled the removal of the threat which had prevented Sherif from returning to Egypt. Based on his strong wish to be reunited with his family, Sherif and his wife planned to return to Egypt after the fall of the Mubarak regime. Both he and his wife secured scholarships for higher education institutions in Cairo and the Egyptian Embassy in Tirana prepared a temporary travel document for Sherif’s return to Egypt. However, when Sherif informed the Albanian government of his intention to return to Egypt, he was told that he would be prevented from doing so. Subsequently, Albanian border police twice prevented Sherif’s wife from travelling to Egypt, despite the fact that she is an Albanian citizen and held a valid Egyptian visa. The Egyptian government has made several representations to the Albanian government on its citizen’s behalf. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has provided official assurances that he does not have a criminal record in Egypt and that his rights would be protected there. Egyptian Embassy inquiries as well as two legal queries into the basis of the government’s blocking of the travel of Sherif’s wife have gone unanswered by the Albanian authorities.

3. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legalsupport to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder ofReprieve and has spent 26 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA. Reprieve has also represented a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoinginvestigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’