A British man currently on death row in Ethiopia has asked the UK ambassador to make sure that he is buried in England during a meeting that highlighted serious concerns over the handling of his case and his treatment in prison.
BuzzFeed News has seen a redacted copy of notes written by ambassador Greg Dorey of his meeting with Andargachew Tsege, 59, at Kality prison near Addis Ababa on 15 October.
Tsege, a father of three from north London, was snatched by Ethiopian security forces at an airport in Yemen last June while he was waiting for a flight to Eritrea. He was taken to Ethiopia having been sentenced to death in his absence for allegedly plotting a coup and planning to kill Ethiopian officials, allegations he denies.
Campaigners claim the real reason he faces execution is that he fell out with former prime minister Meles Zenawi after exposing government corruption.
Dorey writes in his notes that Tsege told him his status in Kality Prison was odd, “since he had no ‘warrant number’ (i.e. prisoner number), so he was ‘not even in the system’”.
Nothing had been said to Tsege about charges against him, Dorey writes, and so a formal charge sheet had been demanded. “He had only heard on radio, TV and the internet about previous charges against him,” Dorey says, “and had the right to know why he was in prison.”
The notes continue: “At this point he became a little more emotional. He said he would ‘take his own measures … I will not allow myself to be debased and dehumanised’ (no further details).”
The ambassador’s notes conclude:
I asked if he had messages for the family. He said “Hello, be brave”. He did not want “complications”. Finally, he asked us to ensure he was “buried in England” – it was important for children to know where their parent/s ended up. I said I would come and see him in a month. He commented that I had said that last time and then had been unable to visit until now, but he fully realised that was not my fault. I said I had been given a high-level promise that a visit in a month would be possible.
Tsege told the ambassador he was sleeping in a small cell with three other people and had not been outside the prison at any point. He said he was occasionally being visited by his 90-year-old father and his stepmother.
He said he picked up news from listening to other inmates’ TVs, and expressed surprise that his MP, Jeremy Corbyn, was now leader of the Labour party – “interesting, obviously the party is moving to the Left”.
He spoke at length to the ambassador about his political views. Dorey’s notes read:
He [said he was] was a prisoner of political masters but they were not applying the relevant regulations properly to him. Yet he was one of their friendliest critics, who understood them better than anyone and they shouldn’t demean him. He had served the regime in the past whole-heartedly and left it on principle. Some problems had since been resolved, others were still real…
When they had beaten and insulted him before in 2005 he had had no reason to go into opposition politics and was not even a member of the opposition – nor had he supported them. And actually Meles himself had said Ethiopia needed a “good opposition”. He had only spoken about politics by peaceful means.
BuzzFeed News revealed that Foreign Office minister Grant Shapps delivered the keynote address at the forum, and is understood to have said that “the UK stands shoulder to shoulder with Ethiopia in transformational change” while, behind the scenes at the event, his department continued to lobby for Tsege’s release.
In response to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News about the ambassador’s memo, foreign secretary Philip Hammond said: “I raised the case of Andargachew Tsege with the Ethiopian foreign minister during our meeting on 21 October, and made it clear that the way he has been treated is unacceptable. I welcome the improvement in access to him, following the British government’s intervention, but it must be more regular and it must include access to a lawyer.
“I am still not satisfied that Mr Tsege has been given an ability to challenge his detention through a legal process, and this is something we are continuing to pursue. The Foreign Office will continue to provide consular support to Mr Tsege and his family.”
But campaigners say the UK government is not doing enough to secure Tsege’s release.
Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, said: “Andy Tsege is a British father of three who has been subjected to 16 months’ of abuse at the hands of the Ethiopian authorities – from kidnap to torture to an in absentia death sentence. It is tragic that he now feels the only way he will return home to Britain is in a coffin.
“Yet instead of demanding Andy’s release from unlawful detention, ministers have been cosying up to the Ethiopians at a special trade event just last week. The Foreign Office must urgently push for his release, so he can return to his partner and children in London before it’s too late.”
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