UN demands Ethiopia release death-row Brit
July 5, 2015
The UN has called on the Ethiopian government to release a British father of three held in a secret location in Ethiopia.
A new opinion from experts at the UN Human Rights Council orders the Ethiopian government to release and compensate Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, from London, who was abducted at a Yemeni airport and rendered to Ethiopia in June 2014. Mr Tsege – a prominent critic of rights abuses in Ethiopia – has been held for the past year in an undisclosed location, and has been prevented from contact with a lawyer, his family, and British consular officials. 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. Mr Tsege has not been informed of any charges against him in the year since he was rendered, but appears to face a death sentence handed down in absentia in 2009 in relation to his political activities.
The opinion of the Human Rights Council experts, revealed today, finds that Mr Tsege is being detained “on the basis of his political convictions” and should be freed without delay. It adds there is “reliable evidence” that he is being physically abused, and that his rendition to Ethiopia involved “several violations of international law.” The intervention follows the publication of a recent letter to Ethiopian diplomats from the UN’s human rights Special Rapporteurs, in which they expressed “grave concern” over Mr Tsege’s rendition and torture.
Though the UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, said recently that Mr Tsege’s detention “risked undermining” the UK’s relationship with Ethiopia, he has thus far failed to ask for Mr Tsege’s return, instead focusing (unsuccessfully) on securing ‘consular access’ and ‘due process’. However, internal Foreign Office emails recently obtained by human rights organization Reprieve – which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family – show UK diplomats privately discussing how Mr Tsege faces a “real risk of torture”, and saying no legal basis has been provided for his detention. More recent correspondence reveals a Foreign Office view that the Ethiopian government is being “obdurate”.
Several MPs have raised Mr Tsege’s case in Parliament over the past few days, with one asking “what steps the Government plans to take to ensure Mr Tsege’s return home.”
Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:
“It’s been over a year since Andy Tsege was forcibly taken to Ethiopia, in a kidnapping operation that UK officials admit was unlawful. Sentenced to death in absentia for the ‘crime’ of his political opinions, he has now been held in solitary confinement – itself a form of torture – for 13 months. He has been denied proper consular access, ‘interrogated’ for months on end, paraded on Ethiopian State television, and refused any meaningful contact with the outside world or his family in London. The UN is right to be taking action and demanding Andy’s immediate release from his unlawful detention. The UK’s refusal to do the same is an unacceptable abdication of responsibility to one of its citizens. Philip Hammond should do what’s right for this British father of three, and request his release immediately.”
Notes to editors
1. For more information, please contact Reprieve’s press office: donald [DOT] campbell [AT] reprieve.org.uk
2. Copies of the UN opinion are available on request, while the recent letter to Ethiopia from the UN Special Rapporteurs can be read here.