A British national seized and held captive by the Ethiopian government is in dire need of our support, writes KATE HODGSON
BRITISH national Ethiopian-born Andargachew “Andy” Tsege suffers in a living nightmare over 3,600 miles away.
After Ethiopian secret police kidnapped him from Yemen airport in 2014, he has been in solitary in Kality, Ethiopia’s most infamous prison, with a death sentence and two life sentences hanging over him.
The British government, which has tried to duck responsibility at every turn, has yet to robustly defend Tsege’s human rights and demand his return.
Nearly 600 days have passed and access to his lawyer is still refused, as is any visit from his wife and children, his MP Jeremy Corbyn or Lord Dholakia, vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Ethiopia.
Jeremy Corbyn said: “I have raised Andargachew Tsege’s case many times and [fellow Islington MP] Emily [Thornberry] and I will persist in this until justice is done.’’
The few times the ambassador saw him were never in private. Dr Ben Robinson of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust concluded in a report published last month that “Mr Tsege’s mental health has declined precipitously since being detained in Ethiopia” and there is an “urgent need” to remove him from his current conditions.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team who is acting for the family, said: “Andy Tsege has been subjected to an outrageous, unlawful ordeal, and if the Foreign Office disagrees, it must explain why.
“It is unacceptable that a British citizen was sentenced to death in a political show trial — where he wasn’t present, and wasn’t even informed about the court proceedings — and then kidnapped into indefinite detention by the same brutal regime.
“It’s clear that there is no hope of ‘due process’ in Ethiopia’s courts, and that Andy’s very well-being is at stake — the UK government must urgently call for his release.”
As Amnesty International’s report of 2014-15 states: “While economic growth continues apace alongside significant foreign investment, Ethiopia’s government used multiple channels and methods to enforce political control on the population, including politicising access to job and education opportunities and development assistance, and high levels of physical and technological surveillance.
“The politicisation of the investigative branch of the police and of the judiciary meant that it was not possible to receive a fair hearing in politically motivated trials.
“Federal and regional security services were responsible for violations throughout the country, including arbitrary arrests, the use of excessive force, torture and extrajudicial executions. They operated with near-total impunity.”
A well-respected critic of Ethiopia’s government, Tsege has spoken on its awful human rights record before the US Congress and the EU’s committee on human rights.
As a democracy campaigner and secretary general of the outlawed Ginbot 7 movement, he opposes this regime which came to power 15 years ago and claimed 100 per cent of votes at last May’s elections.
The regime silences any opposition (it is one of the leading jailers of journalists on the continent) to continue to receive foreign investment and aid (last year Britain gave £336 million with £306m planned in 2016, according to the Department for International Development), as well as millions from NGOs, United Nations organisations and the African Union (which made 2016 its year of human rights), based in Addis Ababa.
Our government’s inaction is deeply hypocritical: whereas it intervened to help Karl Andree, the grandfather facing 350 lashes in Saudi Arabia, with the Foreign Secretary saying the case had caused “concern” in Britain, it refuses to take action here.
In absentia trials are illegal under international law. However, in recent correspondence with Reprieve, Foreign Office Minister James Duddridge refused to confirm whether Britain accepted the validity of the death sentence.
This year began by Britain abandoning its strategy on the death penalty, with Foa commenting: “This raises suspicions that a desire to avoid embarrassing Britain’s ‘allies’ has taken precedence over standing up for basic British principles.”
Last month the European Parliament acted. Foa said: “The European Parliament is right to remind Ethiopia that it is unlawful and unacceptable to kidnap, torture and sentence to death people like Andy Tsege — all for the ‘crime’ of holding political beliefs that are different to those of the regime.
“It is shocking that European parliamentarians and the UN are doing more for Andy than his own government in Britain. The UK must urgently change its position, and call for Andy’s release.”
Please join our candlelit vigil outside Downing Street tomorrow from 4pm to 6pm. It’s Andy’s 61st birthday. Please sign the petition at 38degrees.org.uk/freeandy and share widely so it passes 230,000, the number reached for Mr Andree. Twitter users can follow @freeandargachew and use the hashtag #FREEANDYNOW.