Fresh calls on Boris Johnson to request return of death-row Brit

October 20, 2016

Image of Andy Tsege and his family

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has been urged by rights groups to ask for the return of a British man held under a political death sentence in Ethiopia.

Human rights organizations Reprieve, Fair Trials International, Article 19, Redress, and the Ethiopia Human Rights Project have written to Mr Johnson, outlining strong concerns at his department’s failure to ask for the return of British father Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, who has been held illegally in Ethiopia for over two years.

The letter comes after Mr Johnson was accused on Tuesday of evading questions on the issue in the House of Commons. Asked by MPs why he had not yet called for Mr Tsege’s release, the Foreign Secretary failed to respond, saying that ‘ongoing legal action’ prevented him from doing so. Mr Johnson appeared to be referring to an application for judicial review brought by Mr Tsege’s family which concluded last month, with no appeal sought. Earlier this year, former Prime Minister David Cameron answered questions in Parliament on the case some weeks after the legal case was initiated.

Mr Tsege, from London, was kidnapped in June 2014 at an international airport and ‘rendered’ to Ethiopia. A prominent critic of Ethiopia’s ruling party, he is held under a sentence of death that was handed down in absentia in 2009 for his involvement in Ethiopian opposition politics. In June this year, the Ethiopian government promised the 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.

Ethiopian courts have been used in recent years to imprison and sentence to death political dissidents, protestors, journalists and bloggers. The Ethiopian authorities have previously told Foreign Office officials that Mr Tsege is unable to appeal his death sentence. Today’s letter from the human rights organizations warns that Mr Tsege faces little prospect of due process in Ethiopia.

Mr Tsege’s family in London are unable to contact him. This week, there were concerns that the British government’s limited consular access to him could be under threat, after Ethiopia announced a ‘state of emergency’ that reportedly includes restrictions on the movement of diplomats in the country.

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

“Andy Tsege’s ordeal at the hands of the Ethiopian government is nothing short of an outrage. His family in London are desperately worried about him, and MPs are rightly asking why Boris Johnson won’t request his return. It’s appalling that the Foreign Secretary is unwilling to explain himself to Parliament. As we’ve written to Mr Johnson, the Ethiopian government has shown zero interest in delivering on its weak promises on Andy’s case – and the current crackdown is yet more evidence that Ethiopia’s ruling party has little mercy for its critics. Boris Johnson must start listening to our concerns, and urgently request Andy’s return to Britain.”


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, while the rights groups’ letter to him is available on request.

3. Mr Johnson’s comments in the House were made on Tuesday, and are available here.

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

5. Human Rights Watch has detailed the use of Ethiopia’s courts to ‘crush dissent’, here.

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