Ask Your MP to Tell Boris Johnson to Demand the Release of UK Citizen Andy Tsege, Kidnapped and on Death Row in Ethiopia

22.10.16

Andy Tsege, photographed with his family before he was kidnapped and illegally imprisoned by the Ethiopian government in 2014.Please ask your MP to demand action from Boris Johnson in demanding Andy Tsege’s release.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Yemi Hailemariam, the partner of Andy Tsege (Andargachew Tsege), a prominent opponent of the Ethiopian government, who, as I explained when Yemi subsequently stood for a photo for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, “was kidnapped” in Yemen “and rendered to Ethiopia on the command of the Ethiopian government” in June 2014, as his lawyers at Reprieve explained, adding that he was “held in secret detention and in solitary confinement for over a year, without access to any form of due process. He has been paraded on Ethiopian TV looking ill and gaunt. He was given an in absentia death sentence in 2009. He could be executed at any time.” Andy is pictured above, with Yemi and their three children.

I noted the above when I posted Yemi’s photo, back in May, at a time when the British government, with Phillip Hammond as foreign secretary, had refused to act decisively on Andy’s behalf. Since then, of course, David Cameron has resigned following the EU referendum debacle, Theresa May has become our new and unelected Prime Minister, and Hammond has become home secretary, with May surprising everyone by appointing Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, a man with a history of racist comments about countries and people he is now supposed to be presenting himself to as a responsible and statesman-like figure.

No one who has seen the footage of John Kerry wincing as Johnson was grilled by journalists at one of his first outings as foreign secretary (a joint US-UK press conference) can be in any doubt that Johnson is ill-suited to the role, but he is now responsible for Britain’s position with regard to Andy Tsege, and answerable to the more than 130,000 people who have signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for Andy to be freed.

To take action for Andy, please email your MP via Reprieve’s website, and ask them to please put pressure on Boris Johnson to act.

On October 18, his lawyers at Reprieve, and four other organisations — Article 19, the Ethiopia Human Rights Project, Fair Trials International and Redress — sent the following letter to Boris Johnson in response to an open letter by the foreign secretary on August 26. Full of inadequate responses to the lawyers’ demands, this letter and its failings are dissected by Reprieve here, in an article entitled, “7 reasons why Boris Johnson is wrong not to call for British father’s release from Ethiopian death row.”

The NGOs’ letter also came about in response to Johnson’s failure to answer questions about Andy’s situation in Parliament. As Reprieve described it in a press release, “The letter comes after Mr. Johnson was accused on Tuesday of evading questions on the issue in the House of Commons. Asked by MPs why he had not yet called for Mr. Tsege’s release, the Foreign Secretary failed to respond, saying that ‘ongoing legal action’ prevented him from doing so. Mr. Johnson appeared to be referring to an application for judicial review brought by Mr. Tsege’s family which concluded last month, with no appeal sought.” However, “[e]arlier this year, former Prime Minister David Cameron answered questions in Parliament on the case some weeks after the legal case was initiated.”

Reprieve’s press release also noted that, “In June this year, the Ethiopian government promised the former Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, that Mr. Tsege would be given ‘legal access’ – however, to date, Mr. Tsege has yet to be allowed to contact a lawyer.”

Reprieve added:

Ethiopian courts have been used in recent years to imprison and sentence to death political dissidents, protestors, journalists and bloggers. The Ethiopian authorities have previously told Foreign Office officials that Mr. Tsege is unable to appeal his death sentence. Today’s letter from the human rights organizations warns that Mr. Tsege faces little prospect of due process in Ethiopia.

Mr. Tsege’s family in London are unable to contact him. This week, there were concerns that the British government’s limited consular access to him could be under threat, after Ethiopia announced a ‘state of emergency’ that reportedly includes restrictions on the movement of diplomats in the country.

Just yesterday, AFP reported that the Ethiopian authorities “have arrested more than 1,500 people since declaring a state of emergency less than two weeks ago, according to a statement published by state-controlled news agency Fana.”

Maya Foa, one of  Reprieve’s directors, said, “Andy Tsege’s ordeal at the hands of the Ethiopian government is nothing short of an outrage. His family in London are desperately worried about him, and MPs are rightly asking why Boris Johnson won’t request his return. It’s appalling that the Foreign Secretary is unwilling to explain himself to Parliament. As we’ve written to Mr. Johnson, the Ethiopian government has shown zero interest in delivering on its weak promises on Andy’s case – and the current crackdown is yet more evidence that Ethiopia’s ruling party has little mercy for its critics. Boris Johnson must start listening to our concerns, and urgently request Andy’s return to Britain.”

Below is the letter the NGOs wrote to Boris Johnson calling for him to act on Andy’s behalf without further delay:

The Rt Honourable Boris Johnson MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH

TO: boris.johnson.mp@parliament.uk; fcocorrespondence@fco.gov.uk

Urgent request that the UK reconsider its refusal to call for Andy Tsege’s release

Dear Secretary of State,

Our organisations are writing in response to your recent open letter on the case of British father-of-three Andy Tsege. [i]

At time of writing Mr. Tsege has been illegally held on Ethiopia’s death row for more than two years under a death sentence imposed upon him in absentia, having been kidnapped in an international airport in June 2014 and rendered to a prison widely referred to as “Ethiopia’s gulag”. [ii]

We urge you to reconsider your refusal to call for Ethiopia to return Mr. Tsege to his home in the UK and your decision instead to limit your efforts in the case to asking that he be allowed to see a lawyer. We believe this approach is misplaced and potentially counter-productive. Mr .Tsege is, after all, not a criminal, but himself a victim of crime.

Your emphasis on securing Mr. Tsege a lawyer ignores the fact that both the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have confirmed that “there is no appeal process” available to Mr. Tsege, and that it is “not possible” for him to appeal his in absentia death sentence. [iii]

The FCO’s approach is further undermined by Ethiopia’s failure to deliver on a promise to your predecessor five months ago that Mr. Tsege would be granted legal access. [iv] Since then prison authorities have yet to even pass Mr. Tsege pen and paper with which to request legal advice.

Should Mr. Tsege at some point in the future be allowed to write a letter to a lawyer, he would find this of little use: Reprieve has now contacted all 20 lawyers on the FCO’s own list of proposed lawyers in Ethiopia and 19 out of 20 did not respond or did not even have valid contact details.

By focusing solely on the request that Mr. Tsege be granted a lawyer, the FCO is neglecting to address Mr. Tsege’s illegal kidnap, illegal transfer to Ethiopia, and illegal in absentia death sentence – grave abuses which have led the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to call for Mr. Tsege’s immediate release. [v] Worse still, the approach risks lending credibility to a sham legal process that will only prolong Mr. Tsege’s ordeal.

Mr. Tsege was sentenced to death in 2009 in proceedings described by the US State Department as “lacking in basic elements of due process” [vi], which he was not even invited to attend.[vii] The African Commission is currently reviewing the complete lack of due process that Andy is facing. It strains credulity to think that at this stage a lawyer could help Mr. Tsege navigate the same corrupted justice system.

Your letter claims that “Britain does not interfere in the legal systems of other countries”, but in fact the UK has frequently requested and secured the release of British nationals who have been arbitrarily detained. Lee Po in China [viii] and Karl Andree in Saudi Arabia [ix] are just two recent examples.

Given the catalogue of abuses Mr. Tsege has suffered, and the reality that he will not and cannot obtain legal relief in Ethiopia, we urge you to take a similar approach to his case, and call for his immediate release and return to his family.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you wish to discuss this matter further.

Maya Foa, Director, Reprieve
Henry Maina, East Africa Director, Article 19
Soleyana S. Gebremichael, Coordinator, Ethiopia Human Rights Project
Jago Russel, Chief Executive, Fair Trials International
Dr. Carla Ferstman, Director, Redress

[i] FCO Correspondence on Andargachew Tsege, British national currently detained in Ethiopia: open letter to supporters published on the website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on 26th August 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/andargachew-tsege-british-national-currently-detained-in-ethiopia-open-letter-to-supporters
[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/25/opinion/letter-from-ethiopias-gulag.html
[iii] Note of a meeting between the Secretary of State for International Development and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, 16 July 2015, disclosed to Ms Hailemariam on 29 January 2016 pursuant to a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 1998; Note of a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, Dr Tedros Adhanom, 21 July 2015, disclosed to Ms Hailemariam on 29 January 2016 pursuant to a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 1998.
[iv] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-secures-legal-representation-for-briton-detained-in-ethiopia
[v] Opinion adopted by the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its 72nd meeting, 20-29 April 2015. In March 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur similarly concluded that Ethiopia had violated the Convention Against Torture in sentencing Mr Tsege to death “without due process”. Report of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to Human Rights Council (March 2016), para 148.
[vi] ‘Scenesetter for Codel Meeks visit to Ethiopia: February 16-17, 2010’, cable from US Embassy Addis Ababa, 8 February 2010, published by WikiLeaks: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10ADDISABABA244_a.html
[vii] ‘Attempted coup or opposition round up’, cable from US Embassy Addis Ababa, 27 April 2009, published by WikiLeaks: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10ADDISABABA244_a.html
[viii] House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: ‘The FCO’s administration and funding of its human rights work overseas: Government Response to the Committee’s Fourth Report of Session 2015-16, published 10 July 2016. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmfaff/545/545.pdf
[ix] Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond MP’s statement on the return of Karl Adree to the UK, 11 November 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-statement-on-the-return-of-karl-andree-to-the-uk

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, asking British readers to ask their MPs to tell Boris Johnson, our sad excuse for a foreign secretary, to prioritise the release from an Ethiopian jail of UK citizen Andy Tsege, a prominent opponent of the oppressive Ethiopian government, who was kidnapped in June 2014 and is held incommunicado, under a death sentence issued in absentia after a groundless show trial in 2009.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks to everyone liking and sharing this. Here’s Yemi supporting the Countdown to Close Guantanamo earlier this year: https://www.facebook.com/WeStandWithShaker/photos/a.706946419395172.1073741827.706940079395806/981994125223732/?type=3&permPage=1

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    UPDATE Nov. 3: ‘Calls for Theresa May to help British man jailed in Ethiopia’:
    http://news.sky.com/story/calls-for-theresa-may-to-help-british-man-jailed-in-ethiopia-10643820

    From the article:

    Last weekend the Foreign Office contacted his partner Yemi Hailemariam to say they had received information his life may be in danger.

    Four days later, British officials have still not secured access to him to check on his well-being.

    The human rights group Reprieve have written to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to express its concern.

    “This situation is extremely troubling – it is not overstating matters to say that there is no evidence that Andy is still alive,” it wrote.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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