Foreign Office takes two weeks to confirm death-row Brit is still alive

November 15, 2016

Image of Andy Tsege at Arsenal with his daughter

Britain’s Foreign Office has confirmed that a British father held on death row in Ethiopia is still alive, two weeks after hearing that his life may be in danger.

On Friday 28th October, UK diplomats in Ethiopia received a message that British father-of-three Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege was ‘in fear for his life’, following violence at the prison where he is held under sentence of death. The fears for Mr Tsege escalated after the Foreign Office struggled to secure permission from Ethiopia to see or to speak with him directly. UK officials were finally permitted to check on him last Friday (11th), the Foreign Office has now confirmed to Mr Tsege’s family and MPs.

The recent concerns for Mr Tsege’s wellbeing came three months after the UK was last permitted a consular visit to Mr Tsege. The delay has cast doubt on a recent claim by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, that “regular consular access” was “now in place” for Mr Tsege. Mr Johnson cited consular access as a sign that Mr Tsege’s situation had improved.

Mr Tsege has been imprisoned unlawfully in Ethiopia since 2014, when he was kidnapped at an international airport and rendered to the country. In 2009, while he was in London with his family, an Ethiopian court illegally handed Mr Tsege an in absentia death sentence, in relation to his criticism of the Ethiopian ruling party.

For the first year after his kidnap, Mr Tsege was held incommunicado, amid fears that he may be being tortured. Since then, the UK has been permitted a series of infrequent, monitored visits with him, amid a growing crackdown on dissenting voices in the country.

The UK Government has said it is trying to secure ‘legal access’ for Mr Tsege within Ethiopia. However, Mr Tsege has not yet been permitted to see a lawyer. Last month it emerged that the Foreign Secretary has raised the issue directly with his Ethiopian counterpart three times since taking office.

Human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family in London, has raised concerns about the UK Government’s approach to his case, and is urging the Foreign Office to request his return to Britain.

Mr Tsege’s family in London have spoken to him once since his kidnap, in a brief phone call before Christmas 2014.

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

“While Andy’s partner and kids in London are breathing a sigh of relief that he is alive, it’s terrifying that the Foreign Office appears powerless to help a British father whose life could be in danger. Boris Johnson continues to trust in the Ethiopian authorities’ empty promises on Andy’s case, even when – over two years on from his kidnap – Ethiopia is clearly still giving the UK the run-around. Andy has already suffered a series of shocking abuses, from an unlawful in absentia death sentence, to kidnap, rendition, and torture. Enough is enough – ministers must tell Ethiopia to end Andy’s illegal detention, and return him to Britain.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

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

2. The Foreign Office confirmed yesterday that a visit to Mr Tsege was made on Friday 11th, two weeks after receiving the message about his wellbeing.

3. Boris Johnson’s previous comments on Mr Tsege can be seen in an open letter on the Foreign Office website, here.

4. In a Parliamentary answer on 31st October (here), the Foreign Office confirmed that the Foreign Secretary has raised Mr Tsege’s case with his Ethiopian counterpart three times, and that he had “insisted” on legal access each time.

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