MPs condemn Government inaction over Brits held abroad

December 20, 2016

Image of Andy Tsege at Arsenal with his daughter

MPs from all political parties have criticised the Government for not seeking the release of Britons detained unjustly abroad, such as British father Andy Tsege in Ethiopia, and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran.

In a parliamentary debate this morning, Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood was accused of “hiding behind” a claim of needing to respect families’ confidentiality, in order to avoid explaining why the UK had not sought the release of Britons such as Mr Tsege. MPs also criticised the FCO for declining to intervene strongly for detained Britons for fear of ‘interfering’ with foreign judicial systems, such as in Ethiopia or Iran.

Mr Tsege was kidnapped at an airport in 2014 and rendered illegally to Ethiopia. He was held incommunicado for a year before being transferred to a prison that has been referred to as ‘Ethiopia’s gulag’. Mr Tsege has been sentenced to death in absentia, on charges that relate to his political opposition to the Ethiopian government. MPs this morning pointed out that the 2009 proceedings against Mr Tsege were described by US diplomats at the time as “lacking basic elements of due process.”

Sponsoring today’s debate, Tom Brake MP said the Government must seek Mr Tsege’s release to show “that the UK does not stand by and let their citizens face appalling treatment.” Senior Conservative MP Fiona Bruce said that the UK must not “tolerate without challenge” instances where governments abuse Britons such as Mr Tsege. Several MPs pointed out that Ethiopia receives substantial amounts of UK assistance, including for Ethiopia’s security forces.

Mr Ellwood claimed, in response, that the Foreign Office had secured a commitment “at the highest levels of the Ethiopian government” that Mr Tsege would be given a legal process. However, it emerged this morning that the Ethiopian government has told MPs, as recently as yesterday, that Mr Tsege has no prospect of an appeal.

The debate comes amid concern over a ‘downgrading’ of human rights at the Foreign Office. The families of several Britons killed or imprisoned abroad told the Times, in an article published this morning, that they felt trying to secure help from the FCO was like “screaming into a vacuum.”

Mr Tsege’s partner and children in London have not spoken to him since December 2014, when they received a brief phone call from him. UK embassy staff have had extremely limited consular access to Mr Tsege since 2014, and has never been allowed to meet him without the presence of Ethiopian officials. Independent experts have raised fears that he has been tortured.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve – which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family – said:

“It’s truly alarming that the Government is still refusing to seek Andy Tsege’s release, two and a half years into his illegal detention. As MPs from all parties pointed out today, Andy is the victim of a series of crimes – the only proper response to these appalling abuses is to seek his return to the UK. The Government must listen to these calls, and urgently request Andy’s return home, so that his kids don’t have to face another Christmas without him.”

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