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UK Must Secure Brit’s Release Amid Ethiopia Crackdown

Ethiopia’s government has declared a ‘state of emergency’ as part of an ongoing crackdown on protests, sparking fears for a British man who is held under a political death sentence in the country. 

According to reports today, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, announced the state of emergency in a state television broadcast, in which he accused protestors of “put[ting] the integrity of the nation at risk”. Rights groups have estimated that some 500 people have been killed in recent weeks as the government quelled protests around Addis Ababa. The authorities are reported to have blocked access to the internet in parts of the country. 

Ethiopia’s ruling party has been accused of harshly cracking down on its critics in recent years, including by passing sweeping jail sentences on bloggers, journalists and opposition politicians. Among those currently held is Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a British father of three who was kidnapped at an international airport in June 2014, and ‘rendered’ to Ethiopia. Mr Tsege, from London, is a prominent critic of Ethiopia’s government. He was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009, in a trial that US diplomats observed as “lacking in basic elements of due process.” Mr Tsege is held at Kality prison, which has been referred to by prisoners as ‘Ethiopia’s gulag.’

The British government, which has a close bilateral relationship with Ethiopia, has not called for Mr Tsege’s release. Human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Tsege's family, believes that in light of Mr Tsege’s illegal death sentence and kidnap, the government should call for him to be returned to his family in London. 

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that his Department is seeking ‘legal access’ for Mr Tsege, and in June  this year, the Foreign Office said it had secured a promise that he would be able to see a lawyer. However, government documents obtained by Reprieve indicate that the Ethiopian authorities have told UK officials that Mr Tsege cannot appeal his death sentence.

Last month, it emerged that the prison authorities have not allowed Mr Tsege to have a pen and paper with which to write a request for a lawyer.

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: “The Ethiopian government has shown it is ready to commit terrible abuses against its critics – shooting protestors, jailing journalists, and sentencing opposition figures to death. Among those languishing in prison, and currently in grave danger, is a British citizen – Andy Tsege, who was sentenced to death in absentia, then kidnapped and rendered to a notorious Ethiopian ‘gulag’. As Ethiopia’s leaders intensify their crackdown on dissent, the British government must urgently request Andy’s release, and secure his safe 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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