Hammond must demand release of Briton facing execution during Ethiopia visit – Reprieve

June 1, 2016

The UK Foreign Secretary is facing calls to secure the release of a British citizen sentenced to death in Ethiopia when he lands in Addis Ababa today (Wednesday). International human rights organization Reprieve is calling on Philip Hammond to demand the release of activist Andargachew “Andy” Tsege as he begins a two-day visit to the country, which was announced on Twitter by the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this week.

Mr Hammond’s trip comes as pressure is building on the UK government to help secure the release of the father of three, who was forcibly ‘rendered’ to Ethiopia by the country’s security forces in June 2014, and remains in illegal detention.

Mr Tsege is a prominent activist who has called for reform in Ethiopia, where he is now held under a sentence of death imposed in absentia in relation to his political activities.

It was revealed last week that Andy’s nine-year-old daughter is suing the British government for its refusal to request his return. Lawyers for Menabe Andargachew, a joint US-UK citizen living in London, launched judicial review proceedings against the British Foreign Office over ministers’ handling of her father’s case.

With the exception of one brief telephone conversation in 2014, Mr Tsege has not been allowed to speak to his family. He has not been allowed access to a lawyer, nor brought before any court. Torture is common in Ethiopia, and there are fears for Mr Tsege’s wellbeing.

American diplomats observing Mr Tsege’s in absentia trial in 2009 described it as a means of “political retaliation”, which “lacked basic elements of due process”. In a diplomatic telegram obtained by Reprieve in 2014, British officials have said they “have not been shown any evidence [against Mr Tsege] that would stand up in a UK court”.

British authorities believed that Mr Tsege’s rendition to Ethiopia was “completely unacceptable”, with some asking whether the UK had a basis for a “legal challenge”. However, the British government has refused to ask Ethiopia to release Mr Tsege.

Mr Tsege’s daughter Menabe is now challenging that position, arguing that given the illegality of his kidnap, detention and death sentence, the UK’s decision not to ask for Mr Tsege’s release – something it has done in other similar cases – is unlawful.

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family in the US and the UK, said: 

“Because of his criticism of Ethiopia’s authoritarian regime, Andy Tsege has been subjected to kidnap, rendition, and an in absentia death sentence. Philip Hammond cannot leave Ethiopia without first calling for Andy to be released from his illegal detention. The Foreign Office has a duty to Andy’s family to bring their father home.”

ENDS

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. For more information on Mr Tsege’s case, see the Reprieve website.