Tag Archives: Ginbot 7

UN demands release of British activist jailed in Ethiopia amid torture fears

The Foreign Office has pushed for consular access to Andargachew Tsige with no tangible results, since the British citizen was abducted in Ethiopia a year ago

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The UN has demanded the immediate release of a Briton held on death row in Ethiopia for more than a year, an intervention that campaigners say exposes Britain’s poor diplomacy towards the case.

Experts from the UN Human Rights Council have advised Ethiopia to pay Andargachew Tsige “adequate compensation” before sending him home to London, an abrupt hardening of its position on the case at a time when Britain pursues a softly, softly approach with no tangible reward.

Internal Foreign Office emails, disclosed for the first time, reveal that even before Tsige was kidnapped and jailed in an unknown location in June 2014, British officials had voiced fears at “the real risk of torture if [Tsige is] returned to Ethiopia”, along with “fair trial concerns”.

An eight-page judgment from the UNHRC’s working group on arbitrary detention handed to Ethiopia suggests such fears have been realised, saying that there is “reliable evidence on a possible situation of physical abuse and mistreatment which could amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Tsige, 60, a father of three from London, and known to friends as Andy, was arrested in Yemen’s main airport while in transit and forcibly removed to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

He is prominent in Ethiopian politics, having been leader of opposition party Ginbot 7, which has called for democracy, free elections and civil rights. The government has accused him of being a terrorist and in 2009 he was tried in his absence and sentenced to death.

Foreign secretary Philip Hammond has refused to demand his urgent release, preferring to push for consular access, a request rejected by Ethiopia. Tsige’s partner, Yemi Hailemariam, also a British national, who lives in London with their children, has spoken to him just once by telephone since his abduction.

Another internal government email from the UK ambassador to Ethiopia to Laurence Robertson MP, who heads the all-party parliamentary group on Ethiopia, describes the Ethiopians as “obdurate”.

Hammond recently attempted to harden up the UK’s position on Tsige, calling for rapid progress in the case, but campaigners say this remains significantly short of what is required. Another recent Foreign Office statement made no mention of Tsige, but welcomed the “generally peaceful environment” of the recent Ethiopian elections, which saw the government locking up political opponents and journalists.

Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, said: “Despite the injustices that have been – and continue to be – committed against this British national, the foreign secretary refuses to ask for Andy’s release and his return back home to his family in Britain.

“The UN is right to be taking action and demanding Andy’s immediate release from his unlawful detention. The UK’s refusal to do the same is an unacceptable abdication of responsibility to one of its citizens.”

Kevin Laue of the human rights organisation Redress, which helps torture survivors, said: “The UK government should be outraged by this behaviour and should be responding in the strongest possible terms.” A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The foreign secretary has raised this case with the Ethiopian foreign minister on 13 separate occasions, most recently on 29 April 2015. The minister for Africa raised this again on 11 June. We will continue to lobby at all levels, conveying our concern over Andargachew Tsige being detained without regular consular visits and access to a lawyer.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/05/un-demands-release-british-activist-death-row-ethiopia

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

By AFP

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.

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“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.

British Members of Parliament to visit Ethiopia in bid to secure release of Andargachew Tsege

By JONATHAN OWEN, The Independent

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A delegation of British MPs will visit Ethiopia next month in a bid to secure the release of Andargachew “Andy” Tsege, a British father of three who is under a death sentence.
Mr Tsege, 59, a leading critic of the Ethiopian government who came to Britain as a political refugee more than 30 years ago, has been held in solitary confinement for the past six months.
He vanished during a stopover in Yemen last June, during a trip from Dubai to Eritrea, in what campaigners say was a politically motivated kidnapping. Weeks later it emerged he had been imprisoned in Ethiopia.
His precise whereabouts remain unknown.
The Briton, who is the secretary-general of a banned Ethiopian opposition movement, is facing a death sentence imposed at a trial held in his absence in 2009.
The announcement of the visit by British Parliamentarians, yesterday, is in stark contrast to the efforts of Prime Minister David Cameron, whose response to desperate pleas for help from Mr Tsege’s family last year was to write a letter to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister.
Jeremy Corbyn, vice-chair, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights, and Mr Tsege’s constituency MP, will lead the delegation. “He is a British citizen so there is no reason on earth why the British government should not take a very robust view on this,” he said. His constituent is “a British national in prison with no understandable, comprehensible or acceptable legal process that’s put him there.”
And Clive Stafford-Smith, director, Reprieve, who will accompany the MPs to Ethiopia, said: “I think Mr Cameron doesn’t understand how serious this is. I think that Andy is going to be seen, as the years go by, as Ethiopia’s Nelson Mandela.”
Campaigners fear that Mr Tsege is being tortured and concern is mounting for his wellbeing. His sister Bezuaybhu said: “He’s in his cell for 24 hours a day, with an electric light, he’s having no exercise, he’s not having contact with anybody – so if this is not torture what is it?” Her brother has been “kidnapped, detained illegally” and should be brought back to Britain, she added.
In a statement a Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The Ethiopians have not allowed us further access than the two consular visits on 11 August and 19 December, though we continue in our efforts to secure this.” The British government is “deeply concerned” about his detention and is “pressing  the Ethiopian authorities” not to carry out the death penalty, they added.
Six months after his capture, Mr Tsege’s family is finding it increasingly hard to cope. His partner Yemi Hailemariam, mother of their three children, said: “We are very ordinary family caught up in this very extraordinary problem and we just don’t know how to get ourselves out of it.” She added: “It just breaks my heart to think he will be celebrating his 60th birthday in three weeks’ time in prison.”
The only contact she has had in six months was a short telephone call Mr Tsege made last month. “He primarily focused on the kids saying that I should not give them false hope. I told him to keep well and strong. He said he is fine. I asked him where he was, he said he was still there [Ethiopia],” she told The Independent.
“It is very, very, difficult to keep things going; I do have my low points. I try just to block a lot of things out and just keep ploughing away – that’s how I’m trying to cope with it,” said Ms Hailemariam.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ethiopian Embassy, London, claimed that Mr Tsege belongs to a “terrorist organization” seeking to “overthrow the legitimate government of Ethiopia.” He is being “well treated” and “torture is inhumane and has no place in modern Ethiopia,” they added.
Yet a recent report by Amnesty International revealed how political activists have been tortured and killed by the Ethiopian security forces in recent years.

A BRITISH MAN IS ON DEATH ROW IN ETHIOPIA

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.

Follow Oscar Rickett on Twitter.

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
By JONATHAN OWEN

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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.”