7 reasons why Boris Johnson is wrong not to call for British father’s release from Ethiopian death row
Andy Tsege is a British father of three who was kidnapped from an international airport in 2014 and rendered to Ethiopia as part of a brutal crackdown on political opponents and activists. He faces execution, having been sentenced to death at a politically motivated trial he was not even invited to attend.
Andy has now been imprisoned for over two years, but the British government has still not called for his release despite nearly 150,000 people having signed petitions calling on them to do so.
Below is Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s response to Andy’s supporters. He continues to refuse to call for Andy’s release and instead push the failed approach of securing legal representation for Andy – even though the Ethiopian Prime Minister has confirmed Andy has no way of appealing his death sentence.
To see our point by point rebuttal of Boris Johnson’s claims, click on each highlighted statement like this. Then take action by asking your MP to hold Boris Johnson to account for failing Andy.
26 August 2016
I’m writing this open letter to all those who have contacted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in recent months concerning the case of British national, Andargachew Tsege, currently detained in Ethiopia.
First of all, I would like to state that Mr Tsege’s case remains a high priority for the British Government and that we take his welfare very seriously.
My predecessor as Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, raised this case with both the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister during his visit to Ethiopia on 1 June 2016. During his meetings, he made it clear that while progress has been made, with with regular consular access now in place
1. Andy has not received a consular visit since 2nd of August 2016
Despite FCO officials travelling to Ethiopia in the meantime, Andy’s last visit from a consular official was over two months ago.
Ethiopia allows UK officials to visit Andy only rarely, and these visits are always monitored by Ethiopian guards. This means Andy is unable to speak freely about how he is being treated.
following his transfer to a federal prison, further steps are required. Prime Minister Hailemariam assured the then Foreign Secretary that Mr Tsege would be allowed access to independent legal advice
2. The UK Government claimed it had secured legal access for Andy over four months ago, but he is still being denied access to a lawyer – he’s not even allowed paper and pen to write to one
The Former Foreign Secretary announced in June that he had raised Andy’s case and “received a commitment from the Prime Minister that Mr. Tsege will be allowed access to independent legal advice”.
Nothing about Andy’s ordeal has been legal – there is no lawful conviction for a lawyer to appeal nor legal process to challenge. Andy desperately needs the UK government to demand his release – but they have refused to do so and even failed to live up to their own promise of legal access.
to allow him to consider his options under the Ethiopian legal system.
3. The Ethiopian Government has confirmed on several occasions that there is no legal process Andy can access in Ethiopia.
Both the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have told the UK Government that “there is no appeal process” available for Andy and that it is “not possible” for him to appeal his convictions, including his in absentia death sentence.
Andy was tried by the Ethiopian authorities three times in absentia, meaning that he wasn’t even in the courtroom – he was thousands of miles away in London, when he was sentenced to death. UN experts have clearly stated that Andy’s convictions are unlawful and do not constitute a legitimate basis for his detention.
There is no “need” for Mr. Tsege to have access to a lawyer, because “the legal process relating to his sentences in absentia was complete” – Ethiopian Foreign Minister’s comment to the British Ambassador in May 2015
“There is no appeal process” available for Andy in Ethiopia and it is “not possible” for him to appeal his convictions, including his in absentia death sentence – Ethiopian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister’s comment to UK Ministers July 2015
We will continue to press the Ethiopian Government as necessary to ensure that Mr Tsege has access to the promised legal representation.
4. 19 out of the 20 lawyers that the FCO proposed did not respond or did not have valid contact details
Reprieve tried to contact everyone on the FCO’s official list of Ethiopian lawyers. They had only one response, and even that person said they couldn’t help.
This was a point that I reiterated during my call with my Ethiopian counterpart, Dr Tedros – one of my first calls as Foreign Secretary.
I am aware of the suggestion that the UK Government should directly call for Mr Tsege’s release. As my predecessor has previously stated, Britain does not interfere in the legal systems of other countries by challenging convictions,
5. Requesting the release of a British citizen held illegally is not ‘interfering’. It is simply not true that the UK doesn’t request the release of citizens illegally detained in other countries.
Andy’s in absentia convictions are unlawful under international law and should not be relied upon by the UK Government or any other.
The British Government has repeatedly intervened to demand the release of British (and other) nationals imprisoned abroad. The UK has, in similar circumstances to Andy’s, requested the release of every British national and British resident at Guantanamo Bay. Former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond personally secured the release of British man Karl Andree from Saudi Arabia in 2015.
“It’s very important that people should realise that when you leave Heathrow, when you leave Dover, a British citizen is basically the responsibility of the foreign office.” – Boris Johnson, UK Foreign Secretary, in July 2016
“We have not been shown any evidence [against Mr. Tsege] that would stand up in a UK court” – British diplomatic telegram in July 2014
any more than we would accept interference in our judicial system. We do, however, lobby strongly and consistently against the application of the death penalty, and against the carrying out of such sentences when they are imposed. Our consular priority at this time is to ensure Mr Tsege’s well-being and access to legal advice, and to ensure that the death sentence is not carried out.
During the former Foreign Secretary’s visit, a senior Foreign Office official travelling with him was given access to Mr Tsege in prison. This was the tenth visit to Mr Tsege by British Government officials. Following that visit, the then Foreign Secretary stated that he was satisfied that Mr Tsege was not being ill-treated
6. Experts believe Andy has been tortured
Andy has never had an unmonitored visit from UK officials, so it is impossible to tell how he is being treated. Ethiopia has published videos of Andy being ‘interrogated’, and looking thin and exhausted. Torture is common in Ethiopian prisons – particularly of political prisoners.
In March 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded that Ethiopia had violated the Convention Against Torture in “subjecting Mr. Tsege to torture, ill-treatment, prolonged solitary confinement and incommunicado detention”.
No evidence has been shown to support Philip Hammond’s conclusion that Andy is not being “ill-treated”.
“Reliable evidence […] of physical abuse and mistreatment” in Andy’s case.” – UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, July 2015
and that he was receiving regular visits from family members in Ethiopia.
7. Andy’s partner is not able to visit him and he cannot receive letters from his children
Andy’s partner is not allowed to enter Ethiopia to see him, and his sister has previously been forced – under threats – to leave the country. Andy has not been able to receive letters sent from his children in London, who miss him dearly.
We will continue to monitor Mr Tsege’s welfare closely and to support him and his family.
THE RT HON BORIS JOHNSON MP
Click here to download the original letter or click here to download our full joint response co-signed by ARTICLE 19, Ethiopia Human Rights Project, Fair Trials International, and Redress. You can read more about Andy by visiting his case page.
What you can do to help Andy
The British government needs to accept that their soft approach with the Ethiopian government has not only failed but also ignores the crucial fact that Andy is not a criminal – he’s the victim of criminal human rights abuses.
It’s time for them to do what they should have done from the start: call for Andy to be brought home to his partner and children in London.