Andy Tsige (right) with Yemi Hailemariam and their children

Andargachew Tsige, known to his friends and family as Andy, is a British citizen from Ethiopia. He came to England as a political refugee in 1979. Now he’s back in Ethiopia, locked up and possibly enduring torture for being a political dissident, and the UK stands accused of not doing enough to help.

Tsige is the secretary general of Ginbot 7, an opposition group banned by the Ethiopian government. In 2009, he was sentenced to death at a trial held in Ethiopia in his absence for supposedly planning a coup. Then, in June this year, he was seized in Yemen, which has a security arrangement with Ethiopia. For two weeks, it seemed as though he had disappeared off the face of the Earth. Then, he emerged on Ethiopian state TV broadcasts, where it was revealed that he was being held in a secret detention facility. While he’s unlikely to face a rarely imposed death sentence, he is currently on death row.

In the first video released, he appears for a short time and looks fairly healthy. But in the second, screaming can be heard in the background (just after the one-minute mark), and Tsige, looking thin and exhausted, is presented as if he is making a confession. A narrator says, in a haltingly edited piece of propaganda, that Tsige has been working with neighboring Eritrea—which has a longstanding feud with Ethiopia—that he has been disrupting the “peace and economic growth of Ethiopia,” and that he has been “training various people and sending ammunition through Eritrean borders.” His lawyers are concerned that evidence obtained through torture will be used to justify the sentence imposed on him.

Since his arrest, a UK Foreign Office (FCO) spokesperson told me, Tsige has only seen the British ambassador to Ethiopia once. That was back in August. “We are deeply concerned about his welfare,” the spokesperson said. “We want consular access and are pressing for further access to him.” David Cameron has written to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn “to request regular consular access and his assurance that the death penalty will not be imposed.”

Despite this diplomatic action, a British citizen is languishing on death row based on evidence that could have been gained through torture, and there has been no public condemnation of Ethiopia’s actions. His advocates say it’s not good enough. Human rights charity Reprieve has initiated legal proceedings against the Foreign Office (FCO) for its failure to treat Tsige’s abduction as a serious breach of international law.


Andy Tsige is raising three children with Yemi Hailemariam, his girlfriend of ten years. All three children have written to Cameron to ask what he is doing to get their father out of prison. Cameron, though, will be treading carefully. Strategically located in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a key ally to the West in the war on terror and has a close relationship with Britain. It is one of the main actors in the fight against Al Shabaab in Somalia. Ethiopia’s use of its anti-terrorism legislation to crack down on dissent of any kind is troubling. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, Ethiopia has become a surveillance state. Press freedom is deteriorating, particularly in the run-up to elections next May.

When I put this to a source in Ethiopia’s ministry of foreign affairs, he insisted that grounds for concern over terrorism in the region were legitimate. “I don’t think it is so much Ethiopia using its strategic importance to do what it wants. The government does genuinely feel it is in the frontline against terrorism—and in terms of terrorist activity it has some cause—Al-Shabaab is in Somalia and trying to make moves into Ethiopia as well as Kenya, Uganda, and so on.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Ethiopia considers Ginbot 7 a terrorist group, and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn claimsthat “Andargachew Tsige is a Trojan horse for the Eritrean government to destabilize this country.” Eritrea is where the Ethiopian opposition groups meet, and any connection to Eritrea can be milked by the Ethiopian government. According to a recent report submitted to the UN’s Security Council by its Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, the Diplomatic missions and military officers of Eritrea are involved in the recruitment, training, and operational aspects of Ginbot 7.

But Ginbot 7 does not appear to be anything like Al-Shabaab. Its mission statement says that it is looking to establish a “national political system in which government power and political authority is assumed through peaceful and democratic process based on the free will and choice of citizens of the country.” Tsige’s family and lawyers insist that he is a peaceful man trying to stand up to an authoritarian regime.

My FCO spokesperson told me that more vocal lobbying is a “tool in our diplomatic arsenal,” to be used at the right moment. Old school diplomacy is still the order of the day, she said, and the British government’s public line may change depending on how the case goes. My Ethiopian foreign ministry source implies that this might be the right approach, citing the experience of Martin Schibbye and Johann Persson, two Swedish journalists who spent nearly a year in an Ethiopian prison on terror charges from 2011 to 2012. They “would have been released months earlier if the Swedish foreign ministry and Human Rights Watch hadn’t kept making loud public noises about ill treatment and human rights abuse,” he said.

Maybe that’s the cut and thrust of realpolitik, and the FCO is playing a savvy game. But a cynic might point out that there are grounds to believe that the British government’s approach is more about not showing up its ally than a desire to protect a British citizen.

Last year, internal documents from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) showed that millions of pounds of foreign aid money was set to fund the training of Ethiopian security forces in the Ogaden region, which has been accused of numerous human rights abuses and summary executions.

Then there’s a master’s program for Ethiopian security-sector officials, funded by DFID. A DFID document, still available online, reveals that places for Ethiopian officials on the “Executive Masters in Security Sector Management delivered to top and mid level military and civil servants in five cohorts” at Cranfield University, were set to be funded by the department up until 2017. The course has since been closed due to “concerns about risk and value for money.” I’m sure this is totally unrelated to any embarrassment that Tsige’s case might cause DFID. Despite the cancelation, the question remains: Can the British government be expected to stand up for Tsige while it is funding Ethiopia’s oppressive anti-terror operation?

Yemi Hailemariam, Andy’s long-term girlfriend, is worried that the father of her children will continue to suffer. “There needs to be clarity in the message the British government is sending to Ethiopia. They need to tell them, ‘This is our citizen. Please give him back,’” she said. Tsige’s lawyers, from the legal charity Reprieve, are just as concerned. Maya Foa, head of their death penalty team, said, “It beggars belief that the UK Government is not doing more to get him back.”

Tsige’s family are trying to hold themselves together. “I don’t feel at all confident about him coming back. I try not to think about it because when I do, I fall to pieces,” Yemi told me. Whatever happens, he “will be expected to ask for a pardon,” sources close to the case in Ethiopia tell me. If he does this, his death sentence will be replaced with a life sentence in prison, perhaps less. In a country that emphasizes security over human rights, and with the British intent on maintaining an important strategic and economic alliance, it may just be the best he can hope for.

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David Cameron writes to Ethiopian PM on behalf of British political dissident on death row

Andargachew “Andy” Tsege, a critic of the Ethiopian regime, was kidnapped in Yemen.

The Independent


The Prime Minister has personally intervened in the case of a British father-of-three facing the death sentence in Ethiopia, after the man’s children appealed for his help.

David Cameron wrote to the Ethiopian Prime Minister in a bid to save the life of Andargachew “Andy” Tsege, 59, whose plight was revealed by The Independent last Friday.

His actions were in response to what he described as “very touching messages” from Mr Tsege’s children, who are calling for the Prime Minister to help get their father home.

Mr Tsege, who came to Britain as a political refugee in 1979, was arrested at an airport in Yemen in June and promptly vanished. Two weeks later it emerged he had been sent to Ethiopia, where he has been imprisoned ever since. The Briton, a prominent opponent of the Ethiopian regime, is facing a death sentence imposed five years ago at a trial held in his absence.

Menabe, his seven-year-old daughter, recently wrote to Mr Cameron asking him to help get her “kind, loving and caring dad” out of prison. Her twin brother, seven-year-old Yilak, simply asked: “What are you doing to get my dad out of jail?” Mr Tsege’s 15-year-old daughter, Helawit, summed up the mood of the family in her letter: “Please, please, please (!) bring him back soon. We miss him so much.”

The 59-year-old sought asylum in Britain in 1979 after being threatened by Ethiopian authorities over his political beliefs (Reprieve)

Responding to the children’s appeals, the Prime Minister claimed the government is taking the case “very seriously”. In the letter to Yemi Hailemariam, Mr Tsege’s partner and mother of their children, Mr Cameron admitted “Ethiopian authorities have resisted pressure” from British officials to have regular “access” to Mr Tsege.

“As a result of the lack of progress to date I have now written personally to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to request regular consular access and his assurance that the death penalty (which the British Government opposes in all circumstances) will not be imposed,” he added. “I very much hope that there will be further progress to report in response to my letter,” he concluded.

Responding to the news yesterday, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, commented: “The Prime Minister says he is ‘concerned’ – but where is the outrage at this flagrant breach of international law, and the ongoing abuse of a British citizen?”

She added: “Andy’s small children are terrified of losing their father, his partner is desperate with worry, and we are no closer to seeing Andy released and returned to safety. Enough delays – we need firm action now to bring him home to London.”

Tsege was arrested during a two-hour stop over in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a (EPA)

Reprieve has begun legal moves which could result in a judicial review to force Foreign Office officials to press for Mr Tsege’s immediate release and return to Britain – something which the Government has resisted to date. A letter to Treasury Solicitors, sent last week by lawyers acting for the charity, argues: “Far from not being ‘entitled’ to request his return, the UK Government has every reason to do so and we urge you to exercise that power as a matter of urgency.”

Meanwhile, Mr Tsege’s family remain in limbo. The past four months have been “agonising” said Ms Hailemariam. “Waking up every day not knowing where Andy is or how he’s being treated is taking a terrible toll on my children and myself.” She added: “The Prime Minister has told our family that he is taking action, but it seems like next to nothing is being done to get Andy back. The children and I need him here with us in London. The Government must demand his return, before it’s too late.” 

British Government using taxpayer’s money to train Ethiopia’s security forces while British man is held there on death row

Exclusive: The 59-year-old sought asylum in Britain in 1979 after being threatened by Ethiopian authorities over his political beliefs


The Government is using taxpayers’ money to train security forces in Ethiopia who are currently holding a British father of three on death row, The Independent has learnt.

Andargachew “Andy” Tsege, from London, was seized at an airport in Yemen on 23 June and resurfaced in Ethiopian detention two weeks later, in what his family believe was part of a political crackdown by the country’s government ahead of next year’s elections.

The 59-year-old sought asylum in Britain in 1979 after being threatened by Ethiopian authorities over his political beliefs. He has since been an outspoken critic of the country’s government and was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009 following a mass trial – a punishment which his family fear may now be carried out.

According the legal charity Reprieve, which has taken up Mr Tsege’s case, torture is common in Ethiopian prisons at the hands of security staff, who have been known to employ methods such as electrocution, beatings with rifle butts and the tying of bottles of water to men’s testicles.

In 2012, the UK Government agreed to spend £2 million over five years to fund a series of master’s degrees in “Security Sector Management” for 75 Ethiopian officials. In supporting documents, the Department for International Development (DfID) said the country’s police and defence forces were “considered amongst the best in the region in terms of effectiveness and with regards to human rights”.

The 59-year-old sought asylum in Britain in 1979 after being threatened by Ethiopian authorities over his political beliefsThe 59-year-old sought asylum in Britain in 1979 after being threatened by Ethiopian authorities over his political beliefs (Reprieve)
In a letter to International Development Secretary Justine Greening, seen by The Independent, Reprieve’s legal director Tineke Harris said it was “extremely worrying that UK taxpayers’ money appears to be supporting Andy’s ill-treatment at the hands of Ethiopian officials”. INSERT: Reprieve wrote to Ms Greening that “torture is common in Ethiopian prisons at the hands of security staff, who have been known to employ methods such as electrocution, beatings with rifle butts and the tying of bottles of water to men’s testicles”, INSERT: Ms Greening replied in a letter highlighting “the part of the DFID programme working to improve the accountability of Ethiopia’s security and justice services” and stating that “a key focus is human rights”.

In her reply, Ms Greening said  that Mr Tsege’s welfare was of “great concern” to the Government, adding that DfID’s work was “carefully designed and robustly monitored”. But his partner of nine years, Yemi Hailemariam, said she had “serious problems” with the Government INSERT: indirectly funding the training of Ethiopian security forces.

“In principle, the idea of teaching them to be accountable is a very good thing – but in practice, if they are not doing that, then what are you funding? Something, somewhere is wrong,” she said.

Reprieve wrote to International Development Secretary Justine Greening, telling her that it was extremely worrying that UK taxpayers’ money appears to be supporting Andy’s ill-treatmentReprieve wrote to International Development Secretary Justine Greening, telling her that it was extremely worrying that UK taxpayers’ money appears to be supporting Andy’s ill-treatment (Getty Images)
Maya Foa, strategic director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “British taxpayers will be shocked to learn that they have been funding training for the very same Ethiopian security officials who are likely to be responsible for the unlawful kidnap and incommunicado detention of an innocent British citizen.

“Andy Tsege has now spent over three months in secret detention, subject to probable torture, and without access to a lawyer, his family or proper consular assistance. On top of that, he is under sentence of death. His family in London is desperately worried. , the Government should be doing all it can to ensure Andy is returned home without delay.”

Mr Tsege’s family have not seen or heard from him since he was detained in Yemen, while the British Ambassador to Ethiopia has been allowed to visited him only once in prison, on 11 August. Mr Tsege was recently paraded on the country’s state television appearing thin and exhausted, when he was said to have “confessed” to various charges.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “The British Embassy in Ethiopia remains in contact with the Ethiopian authorities about regular consular access to Mr Tsege in the future so that we are able to continue to monitor his welfare. We also continue to press for reassurances that the death sentence previously imposed on him in absentia will not be carried out.”

The Independent : The description of the Ethiopian master’s courses – and the supporting documents – no longer appears on the DfID’s website.

DfID said : to the Independent, when asked to comment on the content of Reprieve’s letter to the Secretary of State for International Development, that while it was funding the courses, the money did not go directly to the police. “Not a penny of our funding goes to Ethiopia’s police or security sector,” a spokesperson said. “We work with independent agencies like UNICEF to make the security and justice sector fairer and more accountable, for instance helping women and girls get better access to justice.”