Minister failed to raise Brit’s torture with Ethiopia, emails reveal

February 19, 2015

Government emails have revealed that a Foreign Office (FCO) minister failed to raise the possible torture of a British citizen with his Ethiopian counterpart, despite risks of mistreatment having been flagged by members of his team.

Internal FCO correspondence obtained by the human rights organization Reprieve shows that from the outset, officials were concerned about the very real risk that Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege could be tortured if rendered to Ethiopia following his illegal kidnap in Yemen in June of 2014. Despite this, the then-Africa Minister Mark Simmonds chose not to protest Mr Tsege’s treatment during a phone call with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, which had been arranged by Foreign Office staff to discuss the case. Instead, the emails show, Mr Simmonds invited Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom to London to discuss intelligence-sharing.

Mr Tsege (60), a father of three from London, was abducted and rendered to Ethiopia in June 2014, two weeks before the phone call took place. The Ethiopian authorities have aired several videos of Mr Tsege on state television, but continue to refuse access to him to UK consular staff, his family and lawyers. He is currently held in an unknown location in Ethiopia, reportedly in solitary confinement. A prominent critic of the Ethiopian government, Mr Tsege faces a death sentence handed down in absentia in 2009.

Mr Simmonds’ failure to raise the issue of possible mistreatment of Mr Tsege has renewed concerns about the UK’s approach to the case. Last week, it was revealed that diplomatic staff had failed to deliver on a promise to Mr Tsege’s family to raise his case at the African Union summit, held two weeks ago in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. An email sent to Mr Tsege’s partner by a UK official said that the summit had been “unbelievably busy” and that “it wasn’t possible to have a bilateral meeting.”

Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty Team, said:

“Eight months after Andy Tsege’s abduction by Ethiopian forces, it’s astounding to see that British ministers were aware of the real risk of torture from the start – but still chose to make nice with their Ethiopian counterparts. This is a British citizen facing a death sentence at the hands of a notoriously brutal government – one that appears to face no consequences for its actions. It is high time the UK took decisive action to end his ordeal.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

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

2. Details of the Foreign Office correspondence are available on request.