The UN has demanded the immediate release of a Briton held on death row in Ethiopia for more than a year, an intervention that campaigners say exposes Britain’s poor diplomacy towards the case.
Experts from the UN Human Rights Council have advised Ethiopia to pay Andargachew Tsige “adequate compensation” before sending him home to London, an abrupt hardening of its position on the case at a time when Britain pursues a softly, softly approach with no tangible reward.
Internal Foreign Office emails, disclosed for the first time, reveal that even before Tsige was kidnapped and jailed in an unknown location in June 2014, British officials had voiced fears at “the real risk of torture if [Tsige is] returned to Ethiopia”, along with “fair trial concerns”.
An eight-page judgment from the UNHRC’s working group on arbitrary detention handed to Ethiopia suggests such fears have been realised, saying that there is “reliable evidence on a possible situation of physical abuse and mistreatment which could amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
Tsige, 60, a father of three from London, and known to friends as Andy, was arrested in Yemen’s main airport while in transit and forcibly removed to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
He is prominent in Ethiopian politics, having been leader of opposition party Ginbot 7, which has called for democracy, free elections and civil rights. The government has accused him of being a terrorist and in 2009 he was tried in his absence and sentenced to death.
Foreign secretary Philip Hammond has refused to demand his urgent release, preferring to push for consular access, a request rejected by Ethiopia. Tsige’s partner, Yemi Hailemariam, also a British national, who lives in London with their children, has spoken to him just once by telephone since his abduction.
Another internal government email from the UK ambassador to Ethiopia to Laurence Robertson MP, who heads the all-party parliamentary group on Ethiopia, describes the Ethiopians as “obdurate”.
Hammond recently attempted to harden up the UK’s position on Tsige, calling for rapid progress in the case, but campaigners say this remains significantly short of what is required. Another recent Foreign Office statement made no mention of Tsige, but welcomed the “generally peaceful environment” of the recent Ethiopian elections, which saw the government locking up political opponents and journalists.
Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, said: “Despite the injustices that have been – and continue to be – committed against this British national, the foreign secretary refuses to ask for Andy’s release and his return back home to his family in Britain.
“The UN is right to be taking action and demanding Andy’s immediate release from his unlawful detention. The UK’s refusal to do the same is an unacceptable abdication of responsibility to one of its citizens.”
Kevin Laue of the human rights organisation Redress, which helps torture survivors, said: “The UK government should be outraged by this behaviour and should be responding in the strongest possible terms.” A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The foreign secretary has raised this case with the Ethiopian foreign minister on 13 separate occasions, most recently on 29 April 2015. The minister for Africa raised this again on 11 June. We will continue to lobby at all levels, conveying our concern over Andargachew Tsige being detained without regular consular visits and access to a lawyer.”
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