UK must use Ethiopia trade event to demand death-row Brit’s release

October 20, 2015

Image of Andy Tsege and his family

The Foreign Office is hosting a high-level trade event for Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister tomorrow (21st), despite the ongoing detention of a British man kidnapped by the Ethiopian authorities 16 months ago.

Foreign minister Grant Shapps will share a stage tomorrow with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adanhom at the UK Ethiopia Trade Investment Forum, which is hosted and supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Foreign Office (FCO). The event’s website says it is “the country’s highest profile investment outreach on the international stage, to date”, and that it is is “a unique opportunity” for potential investors to “engage directly with the government and senior decision-makers of one of the most topical investment destinations in the world.”

The event is going ahead amid criticism of the UK government for failing to request that Ethiopia release Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a British father of three who was kidnapped by Ethiopian forces in June 2014 and forcibly taken to the country. Mr Tsege is an outspoken critic of the Ethiopian government, and was sentenced to death there in absentia in 2009. He has been held largely incommunicado since his disappearance, and has been refused regular British consular visits, as well as contact with a lawyer and his family in London.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has demanded the “immediate release of Mr Tsege” from Ethiopia, but the UK government has so far limited itself to calling for consular access and ‘due process’ in his case.

Human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting Andy’s family, is asking Mr Shapps to use tomorrow’s Ethiopian visit to ask for Andy to be released. In a recent letter to Reprieve, Mr Shapps claimed the government “take[s] every opportunity” to raise his case with the Ethiopian authorities.

Tomorrow’s visit comes as the UK government faces controversy over trade deals with countries accused of human rights abuses. Today it emerged that the Business Secretary, Sajjid Javid, had invoked Article 51 of the UN Charter in a letter to Reprieve justifying the promotion of British security exports to countries including Saudi Arabia.

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“The government has already admitted that human rights are ‘no longer a priority’ – for ministers to now take the stage with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister in the name of boosting trade sends a further worrying signal. This is a man responsible for the kidnapping and ongoing detention of a British father of three, Andy Tsege, who awaits the carrying out of an in absentia death sentence. Promoting trade with our allies is one thing, but the UK must also use its ties with countries like Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia to help victims of abuses – including British citizens. The Foreign Office must use its visit from Tedros this week to demand Andy’s urgent release.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization with offices in London and New York City. For more information, contact Reprieve’s press office (UK): alice [DOT] gillham [AT] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140 and (US) / +1 917 855 8064

2. Details of tomorrow’s event can be found here.