Boris Johnson refuses to seek the release of Brit kidnapped for 800 days in Ethiopia

September 1, 2016

Image of Andy Tsege's family delivering petition

The Foreign Secretary has refused to request the release of a British father who will today spend his 800th day in unlawful detention in Ethiopia, after being kidnapped and rendered to the country by Ethiopian forces in 2014.

Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a father of three from London, disappeared in June 2014 while transiting though an international airport. Weeks later, Ethiopian officials admitted to the UK Foreign Office that they had illegally ‘rendered’ him to a secret prison in Ethiopia, in a process the UK Foreign Office has described in internal emails as “completely unacceptable”.

Mr Tsege appears to be being held under an illegal death sentence imposed in absentia in 2009 by the Ethiopian authorities when he was living in Islington with his family. There is no evidence that Ethiopia sought Mr Tsege’s extradition to Ethiopia when he was living in the UK.

In June 2016, then-Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond announced that he had raised the case during a visit to Ethiopia and “received a commitment from the Prime Minister that Mr Tsege will be allowed access to independent legal advice”.

However, international human rights charity Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Tsege, has informed the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that, three months later, legal access has still not taken place and that prison authorities have not yet provided him with a pen and paper he needs to write to a lawyer.

Last week, Mr Johnson published an open letter in response to the large number of people contacting the FCO about Mr Tsege’s case. He indicated that he would follow his predecessor’s approach to the case and said, “We will continue to press the Ethiopian Government as necessary to ensure that Mr Tsege has access to the promised legal representation.” He refused to call for Mr Tsege’s release, claiming that “Britain does not interfere in the legal systems of other countries by challenging convictions.”

Since Mr Tsege’s kidnap, the UK Foreign Office has given various reasons for refusing to request his release, despite having done so in comparable consular cases and in cases of non-British nationals. In September 2014, Philip Hammond claimed he was “not entitled” to demand Mr Tsege’s release, and in December 2014 that “seeking Mr Tsege’s release would be counterproductive”.

Mr Tsege’s in absentia death sentence was imposed following a trial which was widely criticized and described by attending US diplomats as “lacking in basic elements of due process” and a form of “political retaliation”. The Ethiopian Government has previously stated that “there is no appeal process” available for Mr Tsege, and it is “not possible” for him to challenge his death sentence.

UN experts have said that he was sentenced to death “without due process” and in violation of his rights under the Convention Against Torture. Experts from the UN’s Human Rights Council and the European Parliament have both called for Mr Tsege to be released.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“Boris Johnson has missed a golden opportunity to make a fresh start on Andy Tsege’s case. His approach, and Philip Hammond’s before him, ignores the fact that Andy is a victim of a series of crimes, not a criminal. Andy has been subjected to a catalogue of illegal acts – from an in absentia death sentence to kidnap, rendition, torture, televised interrogation and continued arbitrary detention – all without access to a lawyer, proper consular visits or contact with his family in London. 800 days after his kidnap, enough is enough – the FCO must get him back home to his children.”


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