In the hands of Ethiopian forces, begging for mercy

Image of Andy's children kissing him

Andy Tsege is an activist who spoke out against the Ethiopian regime. He was sentenced to death in absentia, then kidnapped and rendered to Ethiopia in 2014.

Andy is a British citizen and father of three children, who are desperate for him to return to their home in London. He has demanded to know what his fate will be, amid concerns over the UK government’s approach to the case.

“Since Andy disappeared in June 2014 our family has been living a nightmare. Andy believed in democracy above all – that’s what he respected about Britain, and it’s what he hoped for in Ethiopia. He was sentenced to death for holding these very British values – we simply can’t understand why the government he believed in isn’t standing up for him.”
Yemi Hailemariam, Andy’s partner

Next week will mark 600 days since Andy Tsege, my partner and the father of my three kids, was abducted and taken to a secret prison in Ethiopia – click here to read more.

During his detention, Andy has only had closely monitored visits from the UK ambassador. His lawyer, Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith was refused access by the authorities.

Notes, made by the Deputy Ambassador to Ethiopia after his recent visit, show that 18 months after his kidnap and rendition, Andy “hadn’t had access to a lawyer”, “was not in the system and hadn’t been given a prisoner number… didn’t even know who was really responsible for him… nor had he received any further information on charges against him/ court dates etc.” The notes say “the main thing he wanted to know was whether he was a prisoner with genuine rights or not”, and that he said he was “in [the Ethiopian forces’] hands and begging for mercy”.

Andy is a prominent member of the Ethiopian opposition and critic of the regime, and was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009 in relation to his political activities. He has been unable to contact a lawyer since his arrest, and his family in London – who are assisted by Reprieve – have been blocked from seeing him, amid fears that he may have been tortured.

An expert report published this week concluded that “Mr Tsege’s mental health has declined precipitously since being detained in Ethiopia”, and that there is an “urgent need” to remove him from his current conditions.

British ministers have so far failed to request Andy’s release, and his latest comments come amid concerns over the UK’s approach to the Ethiopian in absentia convictions. In absentia trial proceedings are illegal under international law, and Andy’s 2009 trial of and several political activists was condemned at the time by US diplomats as “lacking in basic elements of due process.”

However, in recent correspondence with Reprieve Foreign Office minister James Duddridge refused to confirm whether the UK accepted the validity of the death sentence. Ethiopia’s government has not said whether it will carry out the death sentence.

“Andy Tsege has been subjected to an outrageous, unlawful ordeal. It is unacceptable that a British citizen was sentenced to death in a political show trial – where he wasn’t present, and wasn’t even informed about the court proceedings – and then kidnapped into indefinite detention by the same brutal regime. It’s clear that there is no hope of ‘due process’ in Ethiopia’s courts, and that Andy’s very wellbeing is at stake – the UK government must urgently call for his release.”
Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team


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The British government has abandoned its strategy on the abolition of the death penalty at the same time as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan all executing at a horrific rate, and British citizens like Andy Tsege are being held under sentence of death. It has also decided to stop classifying serious human rights abusers such as Saudi Arabia as ‘countries of concern.’

In 2015 the Saudi authorities carried out 157 executions. On 2 January this year, they beheaded 47 people in just one day. Among those killed were prisoners who had been sentenced to death after attending protests against the government. Pakistan has executed 325 people, Iran nearly 1,000.

To anyone who believes in justice, this is a grave concern – and we want our government to stand up for our values, not quietly look the other way while executions are carried out on a huge scale.

We need real action, starting with the reinstatement of the death penalty strategy. Can you send your MP Reprieve’s response to the government, with a demand for genuine progress?

Take action now