UK Foreign secretary warns Ethiopia over treatment of Andargachew Tsige

By Owen Bowcott | The Guardian

Foreign secretary condemns detention of Andargachew Tsige in solitary confinement with no access to consular help or right to appeal

The treatment of a Briton on death row in Ethiopia is threatening to undermine the country’s relationship with the UK, the foreign secretary has warned.

In an unusually blunt statement, Philip Hammond has called for rapid progress in the case of Andargachew Tsige, who is being held in solitary confinement in an unknown location in Ethiopia.

The foreign secretary’s comments, released a year after Tsige was abducted while transiting through Yemen, is a clear sign of official disapproval of the approach taken by the regime in Addis Abbaba. The Foreign Office is escalating the case beyond confidential diplomatic exchanges.

On Wednesday, Hammond spoke to the Ethiopian foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, about the case on the phone. His statement said: “I am deeply concerned that, a year after he was first detained, British national Andargachew Tsige remains in solitary confinement in Ethiopia without a legal process to challenge his detention.

“I am also concerned for his welfare and disappointed that our repeated requests for regular consular access have not been granted, despite promises made.

“I spoke to foreign minister Tedros and made clear that Ethiopia’s failure to grant our repeated and basic requests is not acceptable. I informed Dr Tedros that the lack of progress risks undermining the UK’s much valued bilateral relationship with Ethiopia.

“I asked Dr Tedros once again to permit immediate regular consular access and for our concerns regarding Mr Tsige’s welfare to be addressed. I have also asked that the Ethiopian authorities facilitate a visit by Mr Tsige’s family. Foreign Office officials will continue to provide consular support both to Mr Tsige and to his family during this difficult time.”

Tsige’s partner, Yemi Hailemariam, also a British national, lives in London with their three children. She has spoken to him only once by phone since his abduction.

“He’s in prison but we have no idea where he is being held,” she told the Guardian last month. “He said he was okay, but I’m sure the call was being listened to. He had been in Dubai and was flying on to Eritrea when the plane stopped over in Yemen. He hadn’t even been through immigration. We think Yemeni security took him and handed him over to the Ethiopians.

“They say there was an extradition agreement, but it was so quick there was no time for any semblance of a legal hearing. Yemen and Ethiopia had close relations then. The [Ethiopian] government have put him on television three times in heavily edited interviews, saying he was revealing secrets.

“He has been kept under artificial light 24 hours a day and no one [other than the UK ambassador] has had access to him.”

Tsige, 60 – known as Andy – had previously been secretary general of Ginbot 7, a political opposition party that called for democracy, free elections and civil rights. He first came to the UK in 1979.

The Ethiopian government has accused him of being a terrorist. In 2009, he was tried with others in his absence and sentenced to death. The latest reports suggest that his health is deteriorating.

His lawyer, Ben Cooper, of Doughty Street Chambers, said: “We welcome the Foreign Secretary condemning the illegality of Andy Tsige’s detention, confirming the fact of his solitary confinement and demanding consular visits. But we have a simple ask: please request Andy Tsige’s return home to his family in London. Mr Tsige was kidnapped by Ethiopia at an international airport and the only remedy for kidnap is release. Why has Mr Hammond not yet asked Ethiopia to release Andy so he can return home to England?”

Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, has written to the Ethiopian and UK governments saying he is investigating Tsige’s treatment.

Who is Andargachew Tsige?

Andargachew, or Andy, Tsige fled Addis Abbaba in the 1970s following threats against his life from the military regime, the Derg, which then controlled Ethiopia.

A student activist, he had attracted the attention of the authorities. His younger brother was killed by the security forces. Tsige escaped into the mountains to join opposition groups.

In 1979, after falling out with fellow rebels, he sought asylum in the UK. He studied at the University of Greenwich and obtained full UK citizenship.

Tsige returned to Ethiopia after the Derg was overthrown but moved back to the UK in the early 1990s where he became active in opposition politics.

In 2005, he returned to Addis Abbaba again. He took part in that year’s election and was briefly imprisoned. after being freed, he founded a new political movement, Ginbot 7, from his exile in London.

The organisation was alleged by the Ethiopian government to have launched a failed coup in 2009. Tsige was condemned to death in his absence.

In June 2014, he had flown to the Gulf to give lectures. An unexpected change to his return route saw him fly back via Yemen where he changed planes. At Sana’a airport, he was arrested by guards and put on a plane to Ethiopia on the grounds that there was an extradition agreement between the two countries.

Supporters say that had he been born white and in the UK, the Foreign Office would have taken a more forceful line in campaigning for his release from death row in east Africa.

His partner, Yemisrach Hailemariam, and their three children live in London. She has campaigned actively for his freedom.

In February a delegation of MPs, led by Jeremy Corbyn, his local member, was scheduled to visit Ethiopia in an attempt to secure his release. The trip was abandoned following a meeting with the Ethiopian ambassador.

Ethiopia-British leader on death row ‘might’ escape execution: government


An Ethiopian opposition leader with British citizenship on death row will not be pardoned but might escape execution, the government said Thursday, after reports he was struggling in solitary confinement.
Andargachew Tsege, 60, the leader of the outlawed Ginbot 7 group and who was granted political asylum in Britain, was convicted in absentia in 2009 for terrorism, and was imprisoned a year ago after being controversially extradited from Yemen.


“Death sentences are very rarely carried out by the court in Ethiopia. His sentence might be commuted to life imprisonment, but he won’t be pardoned, he won’t be released,” government spokesman Shimeles Kemal told AFP.
“He is an incorrigible criminal and a recidivist who tried to overthrow the Ethiopian government, plant bombs and who organized unrest after the 2005 elections.”
Ethiopia accuses him of also training opposition groups in neighbouring long-term foe Eritrea.
Andargachew, known as Andy, was arrested on June 2014 in Yemen’s Sanaa airport en route to Eritrea, and controversially extradited to Addis Ababa, an action criticised by Britain for being in defiance of international law.
Britain is one of Ethiopia’s largest donors, with development aid totalling some 303 million pounds (482 million dollars, 422 million euros) for the period 2015-2016.
The British ambassador to Ethiopia last saw him on April 24, the third visit permitted to diplomats since his imprisonment.
A report this week by London’s The Independent newspaper quoted a Foreign Office report of the meeting, in which it said Andargachew is being held in solitary confinement.
“Andargachew looks physically in reasonable shape but has health concerns. And he appears in a bad place psychologically. No evidence of mistreatment, other than the solitary nature of his confinement,” the report read, according to The Independent.
The report left his wife, who is looking after their three children, at “breaking point”, the newspaper added.
London has requested he be moved to a normal jail.
“The Foreign Secretary is extremely concerned about Andargachew Tsege’s continued detention. That is why he has raised his case with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister on 13 separate occasions,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.
“We will continue to lobby at all levels, conveying our concern over Andargachew Tsege being detained without regular consular visits and access to a lawyer.”
Rights groups have criticised Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law, accusing the government of using it to silence dissent and curb freedom of expression.
The Ginbot 7 group is considered a terrorist organisation under Ethiopian law. Its name commemorates the Ethiopian calendar date — May 15 in the Gregorian calendar — when post-election violence in 2005 left over 200 people dead.

Andy Tsege: Fears grow over state of mind of British activist who languishes in Ethiopian jail


Fears are growing for the state of mind of a British father of three who has languished in a secret jail in Ethiopia for almost a year.


Andargachew “Andy” Tsege, who has been sentenced to death, reportedly told the British ambassador during a rare visit: “Seriously, I am happy to go – it would be preferable and more humane.”
Next week marks the first anniversary of Mr Tsege, a leading opponent of the Ethiopian regime, being imprisoned during a trip to Africa.
Amid growing concerns for the 60-year-old Briton’s well-being, he was visited by ambassador Greg Dorey on in April.
A report of the ambassador’s visit was sent to Mr Tsege’s partner, Yemi Hailemariam, the mother of their three children.

The details it contains, combined with a lack of any progress since the visit was made, have left her at “breaking point” she told The Independent yesterday.
Ms Hailemariam was warned by Sarah Winter, head of country casework at the Foreign Office: “Some bits of this report will be distressing. Please make sure you read it when you’ve got good support around you.”
The visit was not held in the jail where Mr Tsege is being kept in solitary confinement, and took place in front of security officials. “Andargachew looks physically in reasonable shape but has health concerns. And he appears in a bad place psychologically. No evidence of mistreatment, other than the solitary nature of his confinement,” states the report.

Mr Dorey recalls Mr Tsege commenting: “Seriously, I am happy to go – it would be preferable and more humane. I said I doubted the government would wish to execute him and that in any event we would lobby strongly against this as a matter of principle.”
Mr Tsege saw no reason to stay alive, according to the report. “He was aware of the wider debate on euthanasia and could ask for this: it would relieve the pain,” it adds.
Mr Tsege, who is in solitary confinement, also told the ambassador that prison guards feared he might harm himself but he had not attempted this.

Mr Tsege’s partner Yemi, who lives in north London, described her shock at seeing the report: “The FCO had told me the content of the readout, I was sad but it does not compare to how I felt when I saw it in black and white. I was very devastated.”
Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond has written to his Ethiopian counterpart to warn that relations between Britain and Ethiopia would be jeopardised if anything happened to Mr Tsege. He is understood to have called for the Briton to be transferred to a normal prison, be allowed regular visits and be treated by a doctor.
But Ms Hailemariam said: “Now we are two months later and nothing has changed. I am at a breaking point… What is it about this case that does not make the ambassador be absolutely outraged that he is being treated the way he is by the Ethiopian government? What is it about us as a family that makes it so not worth it for the Foreign Secretary to change tack and just ‘keep raising it’ without any substantive result?”
Pressure is building on the Government to demand the release of Mr Tsege. The case is being looked at by Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture. And Reprieve is calling for the Briton to be freed and returned to the UK.