Hammond: Andy Tsege detention ‘undermining UK-Ethiopia relations’

June 25, 2015

Image of Andy Tsege and his family

Ethiopia’s detention of a British man in a secret location for the past year is ‘undermining’ the UK’s ‘much valued’ bilateral relationship with that country, the Foreign Secretary has said.

In a statement released today, Philip Hammond revealed that he spoke yesterday with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, about the fate of Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a father of three from London who was abducted and forcibly transferred to Ethiopia on 23rd June 2014. Mr Tsege has been held at a secret location ever since, under a sentence of death which was handed down in absentia in 2009 on political charges, related to his involvement with Ethiopia’s opposition movement. He has been denied access to a lawyer, and the British Ambassador has never been allowed to visit him at his place of detention, or been allowed to know where he is held.

Torture is common in Ethiopian prisons, and there are concerns that Mr Tsege is being mistreated. After a recent meeting with him, the Ambassador reported that his mental state appears to have seriously deteriorated.

Following yesterday’s call, the Foreign Secretary said he was “deeply concerned that, a year after he was first detained, British national Andargachew Tsege remains in solitary confinement in Ethiopia without a legal process to challenge his detention. I am also concerned for his welfare and disappointed that our repeated requests for regular consular access have not been granted, despite promises made.”

Mr Hammond added that he had told his Ethiopian counterpart that “Ethiopia’s failure to grant our repeated and basic requests is not acceptable. I informed Dr Tedros that the lack of progress risks undermining the UK’s much valued bilateral relationship with Ethiopia.”

Human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting Mr. Tsege and his family, is asking the UK government to demand his release, in line with international law. However, the Foreign Office has refused to do so, instead focusing – so far unsuccessfully – on requesting regular consular access to Mr. Tsege, and for ‘due process’ to be followed in his case. Today’s statement again stops short of calling for Mr Tsege’s release.

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

“Andy Tsege has endured a full year of detention without clear charges, under sentence of death, in solitary confinement – very probably undergoing torture. His family in London are now desperate with worry. The Foreign Secretary is right to say that this is entirely unacceptable, and it is to be hoped that the Ethiopian government will heed his warning about the risk to UK-Ethiopia relations. But after a year in which Ethiopia has flatly refused all of Philip Hammond’s requests on Andy’s behalf, the Foreign Secretary must go further and demand his immediate return to his family in London.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: alice [DOT] gillham [AT] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8160

2. The Foreign Secretary’s statement on Mr Tsege’s case can be found here.

3. For further information on the torture of political prisoners, see for example: ‘Ethiopia police “torture and abuse” political prisoners,’ BBC News, 18 October 2013, here.