UN condemns Ethiopia crackdown, amid fears for death-row Brit
October 11, 2016
A group of UN experts has condemned a crackdown on dissent in Ethiopia, amid concerns for a British man held under a political death sentence in the country.
In a statement last night, United Nations human rights experts urged the Ethiopian authorities to end what they called a “calculated campaign to eliminate opposition movements and silence dissenting voices.” The experts – including the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, and the head of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Roland Adjovi – added that a crackdown on protestors since November 2015 had reportedly led to the death of over 600 people since November 2015.
The concerns come as a British man, who is a prominent critic of Ethiopia’s government, continues to be held on the country’s death row. Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, from London, was kidnapped at an international airport in June 2014 and ‘rendered’ to Ethiopia, where is held under a sentence of death that was passed down in absentia by the Ethiopian government 2009. His in absentia trial was described by US diplomats in leaked US cables as a form of “political retaliation”, that was “lacking in basic elements of due process.”
Ethiopia’s ruling party has been accused of harshly cracking down on its critics in recent years, including by passing sweeping jail sentences on prominent bloggers, journalists and opposition politicians. The UN experts said last might that: “Suffocating dissent only makes things worse, and is likely to lead to further social and political unrest.” Their statement comes a day after Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, announced a ‘state of emergency.’
The British government, which has a close bilateral relationship with Ethiopia, has not called for Mr Tsege’s release, and has yet to make a statement on the crackdown in Ethiopia. Human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family, has asked the Foreign Office to call for him to be returned to his family in London. UN experts have previously said that Mr Tsege’s detention is unlawful, and have called for his release.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that his Department is seeking ‘legal access’ for Mr Tsege, and in June this year, the Foreign Office said it had secured a promise that he would be able to see a lawyer. However, it later emerged that the prison authorities have not allowed Mr Tsege to have a pen and paper with which to write a request for a lawyer. Government documents obtained by Reprieve also indicate that the Ethiopian authorities have told UK officials that Mr Tsege cannot appeal his death sentence.
Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:
“It is clear that the Ethiopian government is willing to crush those who dare to criticise their policies. This includes sentencing Andy Tsege to death in absentia in a deeply unfair trial, kidnapping him, and rendering him to an Ethiopian prison. While protestors are being killed, and journalists and bloggers locked up, it is astonishing that the Foreign Office continues to rely on a broken and empty promise from the Ethiopian authorities that this British father might be able to see a lawyer. The UK must urgently secure Andy’s release, and his safe return to his family in London.”
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 UN statement can be seen here.
3. Yesterday’s announcement of the Ethiopian state of emergency was reported here.
4. The UK Government announced on 1st June 2016 that it had secured “legal access” for Mr Tsege, while last month, it was reported in The Times that Mr Tsege had not been given a pen and paper with which to write a request.
5. Further detail on Mr Tsege’s case can be found on the Reprieve website, here, while further information is available on request.