UK Refused Access to British Father ‘in Fear for His Life’ on Ethiopia’s Death Row

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UK Refused Access to British Father ‘in Fear for His Life’ on Ethiopia’s Death Row

The British Foreign Office (FCO) has failed for a week to confirm the safety and wellbeing of a British father held on death row in Ethiopia, despite having received reports last weekend that his life was in danger.

Last Saturday (28th), the family of Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, from London, were told by British officials in Ethiopia that Mr Tsege had indicated that he was ‘in fear for his life’, following disturbances at the prison where he is held. Mr Tsege has been imprisoned unlawfully in Ethiopia since 2014, when he was kidnapped at an international airport and rendered to the country. He is held under an illegal sentence of death, which was imposed in absentia in 2009 in relation to his vocal criticisms of Ethiopia’s ruling party.

Concerns for Mr Tsege’s wellbeing have been growing this week, after the Foreign Office indicated to Mr Tsege’s family that it has been unable to establish consular access to him to check on his wellbeing. Yesterday, Minister Tobias Ellwood said in a written statement to MPs that the FCO had not seen Mr Tsege since August this year – an admission which appeared to contradict a recent claim by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, that “regular consular access” was “now in place.” 

The latest concerns for Mr Tsege come amid criticism of the Government’s approach to his case. The FCO has focused recently on requesting legal access for Mr Tsege – a request which the Ethiopian Prime Minister promised to honour in June this year, but has since reneged upon. International human rights organisation Reprieve – which is assisting Mr Tsege – has argued that requesting legal access is ineffectual, because the Ethiopian Government has already stated that there is no legal route by which Mr Tsege will be allowed to challenge his death sentence. Reprieve has asked the UK Government to request Mr Tsege’s return home to his family in Britain, but the FCO has refused to do so.

Torture is common in Ethiopian prisons, and experts such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have previously expressed concerns about Mr Tsege’s wellbeing. Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee is currently monitoring Mr Tsege’s case as part of an ongoing inquiry into the FCO’s human rights work overseas.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: “It’s shocking that Andy could be in mortal danger, and yet British officials – who haven’t seen him since August – seem unable or unwilling to check that he is alive and well. Andy’s partner and children in London are sick with worry for him, and their concerns are worsening with every hour that passes. Andy has already suffered a catalogue of abuses – from an unlawful in absentia death sentence, to kidnap, rendition, torture, and over two years' illegal detention. Andy is now in fear for his life – what more will it take for the British government to stop cowtowing to the Ethiopians, stand up for the rights of this innocent British father of three, and secure his return home to his family in London?

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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