Foreign Office failed to act on death row Brit’s ‘illegal’ Ethiopia rendition
January 31, 2015
The UK Government initially viewed the abduction and rendition of a Brit to Ethiopia 7 months ago as both illegal and unacceptable, but chose not to take action for his release, it’s emerged.
Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege (59), a father of three from London, has been held in a secret location in Ethiopia since his kidnap while in transit at Sanaa airport, Yemen, on 23 June 2014. Mr Tsege, a prominent critic of the Ethiopian government, faces a death sentence imposed in absentia.
The Ethiopian authorities have so far refused to tell British officials where they are holding Mr Tsege, or to allow regular contact between Mr Tsege and UK officials or his family. Asked last year if Mr Tsege would be executed, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told the BBC: “I cannot say this now.”
A series of internal Foreign Office (FCO) emails obtained by Mr Tsege’s family have revealed that, just days after the abduction, the Foreign Office assessed that the incident was a serious and “completely unacceptable” breach of international law, with some asking whether the UK had a basis for a “legal challenge.”
The emails also reveal that the UK government assesses there to be “insufficient evidence” linking Mr Tsege to any “actual terrorist activities” that would support the Ethiopian death sentence.
Despite these assessments, the Foreign Secretary has told lawyers assisting Mr Tsege’s family that the abduction is “questionable but not a criminal matter”, and the UK has failed to take meaningful diplomatic or legal action to bring about Mr Tsege’s release. British officials have limited themselves to asking for regular consular access – a request that has been denied by the Ethiopian government.
Further concerns were raised yesterday that Mr Tsege may be being tortured, after a video of him was aired by the Ethiopian state broadcaster. Speaking this morning to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Tsege’s partner Yemi Hailemariam said that in the video, he appears thin and tired. Torture in Ethiopian prisons is common, with groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reporting routine mistreatment of political dissidents and journalists. The FCO has said it has concerns about “the real risk of torture” in Ethiopia.
Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at human rights organisation Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family, said:
“These emails reveal that the Foreign Office is fully aware that a close ally has committed a series of serious breaches of international law against a British citizen – yet despite this, the UK government has failed to take meaningful action to bring Andy Tsege home. Andy has now spent over 7 months in secret Ethiopian detention, under sentence of death. The UK government admits they can find no evidence connecting Andy to any crime, yet they are apparently unwilling to request that their citizen, unlawfully rendered and held incommunicado in Ethiopia, be released. The UK should turn its words into action and take all steps necessary to bring Andy home to his family in London at last.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact Alice Gillham in Reprieve’s press office: +44 207 553 8160
2. Further details of the FCO correspondence on Mr Tsege’s case are available on request.
3. The latest Ethiopian TV broadcast of Mr Tsege in detention can be viewed here.
4. An expert analysis obtained by Reprieve of earlier videos can be read here.