‘I appeal to the UK to not forget Andy and to make every effort to ensure his safety’ – partner of Andargachew Tsege
Amnesty International today urged the British government to step up efforts to ensure the safety of Andargachew Tsege, a British national held in secret detention nearly six months on since he was rendered to Ethiopia.
Mr Tsege, a British national of Ethiopian origin who is Secretary General of the outlawed Ethiopian opposition group Ginbot 7, disappeared at Sana’a airport in Yemen on 23 June while he was travelling to Eritrea. He had previously been tried in absentia in Ethiopia and sentenced to death for involvement in an alleged coup attempt.
Six months later he is still in secret detention and the Ethiopian government refuses to reveal his whereabouts – he has no access to lawyers or family members.
Amnesty is extremely concerned that Tsege – who is a father of three living in London – is at risk of torture, as political detainees in Ethiopia are frequently tortured in order to extract information and “confessions”. Since his apprehension in June, the UK has been granted just one consular visit on 11 August, during which Tsege was brought hooded to a meeting with the British Ambassador and was not permitted to speak to him privately.
Andargachew Tsege’s partner Yemsrach Hailemariam spoke of her anguish at not having more assurance of his safety. Ms Hailemariam said:
“It’s agony not to be able to visit Andy or find out how he’s doing. It’s nearly six months since Andy was detained. We’re outraged that the UK government has only been able to get one consular visit in that time. Given the close relations between Ethiopia and the UK I would have expected much more. I appeal to the UK to not forget Andy and to make every effort to ensure his safety.”
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
“The British government must do more for Andargachew Tsege.
“He’s a British national and the government is obliged to make every effort to ensure that he is not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, and that he is granted access to his family and a lawyer.
“The British government have long remained tight-lipped about the disastrous state of human rights in Ethiopia and it’s time they spoke out.”
Repression in Ethiopia
Arbitrary detention like Tsege’s is widespread in Ethiopia and torture is rampant in Ethiopia’s detention centres. Dissent is not tolerated, and opposition parties, protesters, students and countless others are subjected to harassment, arrest and enforced disappearance from the security services.
In October, Amnesty published a report highlighting that thousands of people from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group have been arrested in recent years because of their actual or suspected opposition to the government. These have been detained without charge, tortured, and in some cases killed. As Ethiopia prepares for general elections next May, Amnesty fears the Ethiopian authorities will increase both the scale and the brutality of its efforts to suppress dissent.
Kate Allen added:
“In the wake of the 2005 elections, nearly 200 people were gunned down in the streets of the capital while protesting against the election results. The 2010 elections took place in a context of intimidation, harassment and major restrictions on political freedoms. Since then the government has continued to take all possible measures to suppress opposition and dissent in the country. Meanwhile criticism from Ethiopia’s donors has been conspicuously absent. The international community should be urging the Ethiopian authorities to take immediate and crucial steps to remove their stranglehold on political space in the country ahead of May’s vote.”
Ginbot 7 is one of five organisations proscribed as terrorist organisations by the Ethiopian parliament in 2011. In 2012, Andargachew Tsege was prosecuted in absentia on terrorism charges (alongside journalist and prisoner of conscience Eskinder Nega, and others) and sentenced to life imprisonment. Previously, in 2009, he was convicted in absentia on charges related to an aborted coup attempt and was sentenced to death. He was also tried in absentia in the 2005-2007 trial of political opposition members, journalists, activists and others.