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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

UN investigates Briton on death row in Ethiopia

Special rapporteur on torture asks UK and Ethiopian governments about detention of Andargachew Tsige amid claims of ill-treatment

Yemi Hailemariam outside the Foreign Commonwealth Office
Yemi Hailemariam outside the Foreign Commonwealth Office to demand the release of her partner, Andargachew Tsege, who is being held in in Ethiopia. Photograph: Alamy

The detention of a British citizen held on death row in Ethiopia for almost a year is being investigated by the United Nations official responsible for preventing torture.

Andargachew Tsige was arrested last June while in transit through Yemen’s main airport and forcibly removed to Addis Ababa. He is the leader of an opposition party and had been condemned to death several years earlier in his absence.

Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, has written to the Ethiopian and UK governments saying he is investigating the treatment of Tsige. There are claims Tsige is being deprived of sleep and held in isolation.

His partner, Yemi Hailemariam, also a British national, who lives in London with their three children, said she had only spoken to him once by telephone since his abduction. “He’s in prison but we have no idea where he is being held,” she said. “He said he was OK 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. I feel angry with the Foreign Office. They know they could do more. They have political leverage they could use but have not done so.”

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.

No effort was made to extradite him to face the court. A US embassy cable, released through WikiLeaks, described the trial as “lacking in basic elements of due process”.

“[Andy] is a politician, not a terrorist,” said Hailemariam. “It’s just the Ethiopian government that thinks it does not need to make any space for the opposition. A delegation of British MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, were stopped from travelling to Ethiopia in February. They are hoping to try again.”

Tsige was accused by the Ethiopian government of being a terrorist. In 2009, he was tried in his absence and sentenced to death.

Tsige was accused by the Ethiopian government of being a terrorist. He was tried in his absence in 2009 and sentenced to death. Photograph: Alamy

Hailemariam’s dissatisfaction with the UK government’s response follows the release of internal Foreign Office memorandums earlier this year that appeared to show official reluctance to apply pressure on Ethiopia to obtain Tsige’s release.

The UK prime minister, David Cameron, has, however, written a letter to his Ethiopian counterpart, Hailemariam Desalegn, raising concerns about Tsige.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The foreign secretary has raised this case with the Ethiopian foreign minister on 13 separate occasions. 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.”

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team said: “Andy Tsige was illegally kidnapped and rendered to Ethiopia, where he has now been held in a secret location for nearly a year. The UN special rapporteur is right to raise concerns about torture – especially given Ethiopia’s terrible record on human rights, and their denial of any meaningful consular access.

“It is crucial that the British government now takes stronger action on this case. The way Andy has been treated is in serious violation of international law and the most basic principles of justice – the UK must push for his immediate release.”

Tsige’s lawyer, the barrister Ben Cooper of Doughty Street chambers, said: “[He] was abducted at an international airport, hooded and rendered to Ethiopia, where he has been held incommunicado under a death sentence that was passed unlawfully in his absence. He remains in isolation nearly a year later with only occasional access to the open air.

“His detention violates all minimum standards of treatment. We ask the Foreign Office to follow the lead of the UN special rapporteur on torture to demand an immediate end to Mr Tsege’s torture by seeking his return home to his family in England. This is a clear case of kidnap and should be treated as such.”

Elections are taking place in Ethiopia this weekend. Tsige’s family hopes the government will relax restrictions on the opposition once voting is over.

In a lengthy statement, the Ethiopian embassy said that Ginbot 7 had been proscribed a terrorist organisation by the country’s parliament. Tsige, as general secretary, it added, was charged with “conspiring to perpetrate terror and violence in Ethiopia by planning, training, financing, and organising terrorist recruits in Eritrea” and found guilty of “conspiring and working with and under Ginbot 7, to overthrow the legitimate government of Ethiopia through terrorist acts”.

Following conviction and sentence, the embassy continued, the government sent a formal request of assistance to those states with which Ethiopia has an extradition treaty, requesting them to transfer all sentenced individuals in the event of their presence on their territory.

“It was on the basis of this request, and the existing extradition treaty with the Republic of Yemen, that [he] was extradited to Ethiopia. Accordingly, [he] is currently in detention at the federal prison,” it said.

The statement added: “Mr Tsige was serving as a Trojan horse, assisting the Eritrean government’s repeated and ongoing attempts to wreak havoc and instability in the sub-region. Mr Tsige is well-treated and has received visits from the British ambassador to Ethiopia. He has also spoken to his family on the phone.”