Obama must tell Ethiopia: release jailed activist

July 22, 2015

Image of Andy Tsege and his family

President Obama must use a historic trip to Ethiopia this week to press for the release of an opposition leader held under sentence of death, human rights NGO Reprieve has said.

Barack Obama will this week travel to Ethiopia, in the first ever visit to the country by a sitting US President. Ahead of the visit, Reprieve has written to Mr Obama asking him to call for the release of Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a father of three from London and a prominent member of an Ethiopian opposition group. Mr Tsege was abducted and forcibly taken to Ethiopia in June 2014 while he waited for a connecting flight at a Yemeni airport. He has been held in a secret location for the past year, and has been prevented from having contact with a lawyer or his family. The Ethiopian authorities have aired several videos of Mr Tsege in detention in which he appears gaunt and disoriented, sparking fears that he is being tortured.

While Mr Tsege has not been informed of any charges against him in the year since he was rendered, it appears he faces a death sentence handed down in absentia in 2009 in relation to his political activities. His ordeal is part of a wider crackdown on dissent by the authorities in the run-up to the recent elections, which US diplomats were prevented from monitoring. The Ethiopian ruling party won an overwhelming majority.

Mr Tsege, whose family are US citizens, has previously traveled to Washington DC to speak about human rights concerns in Ethiopia, telling a Congressional committee in 2006 that “the scale of repression [by the current government] has exceeded Ethiopia’s darkest hours during the military dictatorship.”

The British Ambassador has never been allowed to visit Mr Tsege at his place of detention, or been allowed to know where he’s held. On the rare occasions when Mr Tsege has been allowed consular access, the meetings have taken place at locations away from the detention site, and in the presence of guards and/or Ethiopian state officials.

A group of UN experts recently called on Ethiopia to release and compensate Mr Tsege, saying they had found that he was being detained arbitrarily on the basis of his political beliefs.

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

“President Obama is making this visit at a time when the Ethiopian government is engaged in some of the most serious rights abuses in its history – including locking up and torturing activists such as Andy Tsege for the mere ‘crime’ of their democratic ideals. Obama has a unique opportunity to help to end this wave of repression. He must tell the Ethiopian government that its abuses are unacceptable to the US – and demand the release of political prisoners like Andy.”


Notes to editors

1. For more information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: alice [DOT] gillham [AT] reprieve.org.uk or +44 (0) 207 553 8140

2. Copies of Reprieve’s letter to President Obama, the UN experts’ opinion on Mr Tsege’s case, and Mr Tsege’s 2006 testimony to Congress are available on request.

3. Further information on Mr Tsege’s case is available at the Reprieve website.