Brit on Ethiopia death row “begging for mercy”, as questions raised over UK approach

January 25, 2016

A British activist held under sentence of death in Ethiopia has demanded to know what his fate will be, amid concerns over the UK government’s approach to the case. 

A recent Foreign Office visit to Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege – a British father of three, who was kidnapped and rendered to Ethiopia in 2014 – revealed new concerns over his detention. The notes, made by the Deputy Ambassador to Ethiopia after the Boxing Day visit, show that some 18 months after his kidnap and rendition, Mr Tsege “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”. 

Mr Tsege is a prominent member of the Ethiopian opposition, 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 human rights organization 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 Mr Tsege’s release, and his latest comments come amid concerns over the UK’s approach to the Ethiopian in absentia convictions. In absentia trial proceedings such as Mr Tsege’s are illegal under international law, and the 2009 trial of Mr Tsege 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 human rights organization Reprieve – which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family – 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.

Yemi Hailemariam, Mr Tsege’s partner, said: “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.”

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “Andy Tsege has been subjected to an outrageous, unlawful ordeal, and if the Foreign Office disagrees, it must explain why. 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.”

ENDS