Foreign Office Emails Cast Doubt on ‘Legal Access’ for Death-row Brit

For Immediate Release

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Foreign Office Emails Cast Doubt on ‘Legal Access’ for Death-row Brit

WASHINGTON - Newly-released documents show how the Ethiopian authorities repeatedly misled Foreign Office staff attempting to help a British man who was kidnapped and rendered to Ethiopia two years ago.

Internal Foreign Office emails and documents, obtained by human rights organisation Reprieve, show that throughout the last year, Ethiopian officials repeatedly obstructed and frustrated the efforts of British government staff who were seeking to assist Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege.

Mr Tsege, a British father of three from London, was kidnapped by Ethiopian forces and taken forcibly to Ethiopia on 23rd June 2014. Mr Tsege is a prominent figure in Ethiopian opposition politics, and he is being held under a sentence of death that was imposed in absentia in 2009, whilst he was living in London. In his two years’ of detention, the Ethiopian authorities have severely limited his access to his family, and UK consular officials. Torture of political prisoners is common in Ethiopia, and there are fears for his mental and physical wellbeing. 

In the Foreign Office documents – which date from throughout 2015 – Ethiopian officials repeatedly refused to confirm where Mr Tsege was being held, cancelling planned consular visits, and failing to answer basic questions over the legal basis for his detention. In a record of a conversation between Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond MP and his Ethiopian counterpart, Dr Tedros Adanhom on 24th June 2015 – one year after Mr Tsege’s kidnap – Mr Hammond complained about Ethiopia’s “repeated failure to deliver on our basic requests”, saying “people were asking why we had a substantial bilateral relationship but were not able to resolve this”.

The documents also show that Ethiopian officials have repeatedly told UK diplomats that there is no possibility of a legal process for Mr Tsege in Ethiopia – raising serious doubts over an announcement by Mr Hammond that Ethiopia has now promised ‘legal access’ for Mr Tsege, made earlier this month.

According to the documents, when asked by the Foreign Office about Mr Tsege’s legal rights in May last year, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister insisted that there was “no case” for a lawyer, saying “the legal process… was complete… what was the need for a lawyer?” In July that year, the Ethiopian Prime Minister confirmed to the UK Secretary of State for International Development that “there was no appeal process” for Mr Tsege in Ethiopia, a fact later repeated by the Ethiopian Foreign Minister.

Reprieve has urged the Foreign Office to request Mr Tsege’s release, and his return to the UK – a call that has already been made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the European Parliament, and several MPs.       

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: "Throughout Andy’s two-year ordeal, Ethiopian officials have repeatedly run rings around the Foreign Office – making and breaking the most basic of assurances, and insisting, again and again, that Andy has no legal rights in Ethiopia. By relying on the latest empty promise of ‘legal access’, Philip Hammond is only compounding the abuses Andy has suffered in illegal Ethiopian detention. Enough is enough – the Foreign Secretary must call for Andy’s release, so he can return to his family in the UK.”

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Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.

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