PM defends FCO amid criticisms over death-row Brit

July 6, 2016

Image of Andy Tsege and his family

The Prime Minister has told MPs that he is “working with” the Ethiopian government to “resolve” the case of a British man who was kidnapped by Ethiopian forces and rendered to the country’s death row over two years ago.

Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege – a father of three from London who is active in Ethiopian opposition politics – was abducted at an airport on 23rd June 2014 and forcibly taken to Ethiopia, where he remains held under an in absentia death sentence handed down by the country’s government in 2009. Torture is common in Ethiopian prisons, and there are fears for Mr Tsege’s physical and mental wellbeing. However, the Foreign Office has so far refused to request his release.

At Prime Minister’s Questions today, David Cameron was asked by Chris Law MP whether he would “demand the immediate release of Andy Tsege from this wholly unjust situation, and bring him home.” Mr Cameron replied that the UK was “taking a close interest in this case.” Citing a recent visit to Ethiopia by Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, Mr Cameron said: “we’re working with him [Mr Tsege] and with the Ethiopian government to try and get this resolved.”

Mr Cameron’s statement follows the recent raising of concerns over the UK government’s approach to the case. Mr Hammond announced last month that – following a visit to Ethiopia – he had “received a commitment… that Mr Tsege will be allowed access to independent legal advice to allow him to discuss options under the Ethiopian legal system.”

However, according to internal Foreign Office briefings from 2015, Ethiopia’s government has repeatedly said that there is no legal process available to Mr Tsege in the country. The documents also show that throughout 2015, Ethiopian officials obstructed the efforts of Foreign Office staff who were seeking to assist Mr Tsege.

Human rights organization Reprieve – which is assisting Mr Tsege – has urged the UK government to request Mr Tsege’s release. Calls for Ethiopia to release Mr Tsege have already been made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the European Parliament.

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

“While the Prime Minister’s close interest in the case of Andy Tsege is welcome, it’s deeply disappointing that the government refuses to simply request Andy’s release from illegal detention. Andy has suffered a series of terrible injustices at the hands of Ethiopian officials – from kidnap and rendition to an in absentia death sentence. This is a criminal matter and it is not enough for the UK to commit to ‘working with Ethiopia’ – they should be demanding that Andy’s kidnappers release him.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. Detail on Mr Tsege’s case can be found here, while copies of the Foreign Office documents obtained by Reprieve are available on request.