UK ministers must use Ethiopia summit to free death-row Brit

January 21, 2016

Image of Andy Tsege and his family

The government must use the African Union summit beginning today in Addis Ababa to urge the release of a British man kidnapped to Ethiopia nearly 2 years ago, human rights organization Reprieve has said.

Foreign Office minister James Duddridge is expected to attend the AU’s annual summit in the Ethiopian capital today. The AU recently named 2016 the ‘Year of Human Rights in Africa.’

Reprieve has written to Mr Duddridge asking him to use the forum to secure the release of Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a British father of three and political activist who is held in Ethiopia under sentence of death. Andy has been in incommunicado detention since his illegal kidnap and rendition to the country by Ethiopian forces in June 2014. A prominent critic of Ethiopia’s ruling party, Andy was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009, and since his rendition, Ethiopian authorities have refused to allow him to see a lawyer or his partner and children. Torture is common in Ethiopian prisons, and there are fears that Andy has suffered mistreatment whilst detained.

The UK government has so far refused to ask for Andy’s release, instead limiting itself to calling for regular consular access – which has been denied – and ‘due process’. Ahead of last year’s African Union summit, Foreign Office officials indicated to Mr Tsege’s partner that they planned to raise the case – however, an email later sent to her from a UK official said that the summit had been “unbelievably busy” and that “it wasn’t possible to have a bilateral meeting.”

The summit comes amid concerns for Mr Tsege’s mental state in detention. In an expert report published this week, Dr Ben Robinson of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust concluded that: “Mr Tsege’s mental health has declined precipitously since being detained in Ethiopia”, and that there is an “urgent need” to remove him from his current conditions.

The event also comes amid criticism of the Foreign Office for a recent decision to abandon its anti-death penalty strategy in countries including Ethiopia.

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

“The UK government must use this summit to make a concerted push for Andy Tsege’s release. It is shocking that no progress has been made since last year’s event – when British diplomats were ‘too busy’ to raise the case. Now that the African Union has made 2016 the ‘year of human rights’, the Foreign Office must tell Ethiopian officials to honour that pledge and urgently free Andy.”

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. The psychological report on Andy Tsege, and further information, is available on request.