Boris Johnson refuses to answer MPs on Brit held in Ethiopia

October 18, 2016

Image of Andy Tsege and his family

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has today refused to answer questions in the House of Commons about the case of Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a British father of three who is held on Ethiopia’s death row.

Mr Johnson and other Foreign Office ministers today faced several oral questions from MPs about why their department has not requested the return of Mr Tsege. Mr Tsege was kidnapped at an airport in June 2014, and is now held in Ethiopia under a sentence of death imposed in absentia in 2009.

Asking Mr Johnson about the case today, Stephen Timms MP said: “In June this year, the Foreign Secretary’s predecessor announced in a press release he had ‘secured assurances from the Ethiopian Government Mr. Tsege will be granted access to a lawyer’. Those assurances haven’t been honoured. Will the Foreign Secretary now formally request the release of Mr. Tsege?”

Responding, Mr Johnson directed MPs to an open letter he had written in August, which was posted on the FCO’s website, adding: “I cannot, I’m afraid, comment further because our handling of this case is a subject of ongoing legal proceedings.”

Mr Johnson appeared to be referring to an application for judicial review brought by Mr Tsege’s family, which has now concluded. That legal effort aimed to challenge the FCO’s strategy of pursuing ‘legal access’ for Mr Tsege, and argued that he faces no prospect of due process in Ethiopia. In June this year, the Ethiopian government promised former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond that Mr Tsege would be given legal access – however, to date, Mr Tsege has yet to be allowed to contact a lawyer.

Earlier this year, former Prime Minister David Cameron answered questions in Parliament on the case, even though the family’s legal proceedings were still under way.

Mr Tsege is a prominent critic of Ethiopia’s ruling party, and the 2009 in absentia proceedings that saw him handed a death sentence were criticised by US diplomats as “lacking basic elements of due process.” FCO officials have said privately that they “have not been shown any evidence” against Mr Tsege that would “stand up in a UK court.”

Human rights organization Reprieve – which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family – has raised concerns over Mr Tsege’s welfare, after the Ethiopian government announced a ‘state of emergency’ on Sunday in response to widespread protests in the country. Hundreds of protestors have been shot in recent weeks, while there are reports of mass arrests, a communications blackout, and plans to restrict the movement of foreign diplomats around the country.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said:

“As Ethiopia tightens its worrying ‘state of emergency’, it is astonishing that Boris Johnson has refused to answer questions over his department’s inaction on Andy Tsege. This is a British man who was sentenced to death in absentia, kidnapped from an airport, and rendered illegally to Ethiopia’s death row. It is unacceptable that the UK has failed to ask for Andy’s return to Britain, when the Ethiopian authorities have consistently broken their promises – including their assurances that Andy would be given ‘legal access’. As more than one MP suggested today, it is time for the FCO to drop the charade that Andy can receive due process in Ethiopia – Boris Johnson must instead call for Andy’s immediate return to his family in the UK.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. Mr Johnson’s open letter on Mr Tsege’s case can be seen here.

3. Former Prime Minister David Cameron answered questions from MPs on the case in July, two months after Mr Tsege’s family announced legal proceedings.

4. The announcement of the Ethiopian state of emergency was reported here.

5. The UK Government announced on 1st June 2016 that it had secured “legal access” for Mr Tsege, while last month, it was reported in The Times that Mr Tsege had not been given a pen and paper with which to write a request.

6. Further detail on Mr Tsege’s case can be found on the Reprieve website, here.