David Cameron wrote to the Ethiopian Prime Minister in a bid to save the life of Andargachew “Andy” Tsege, 59, whose plight was revealed by The Independent last Friday.
His actions were in response to what he described as “very touching messages” from Mr Tsege’s children, who are calling for the Prime Minister to help get their father home.
Mr Tsege, who came to Britain as a political refugee in 1979, was arrested at an airport in Yemen in June and promptly vanished. Two weeks later it emerged he had been sent to Ethiopia, where he has been imprisoned ever since. The Briton, a prominent opponent of the Ethiopian regime, is facing a death sentence imposed five years ago at a trial held in his absence.
Menabe, his seven-year-old daughter, recently wrote to Mr Cameron asking him to help get her “kind, loving and caring dad” out of prison. Her twin brother, seven-year-old Yilak, simply asked: “What are you doing to get my dad out of jail?” Mr Tsege’s 15-year-old daughter, Helawit, summed up the mood of the family in her letter: “Please, please, please (!) bring him back soon. We miss him so much.”
The 59-year-old sought asylum in Britain in 1979 after being threatened by Ethiopian authorities over his political beliefs (Reprieve)
Responding to the children’s appeals, the Prime Minister claimed the government is taking the case “very seriously”. In the letter to Yemi Hailemariam, Mr Tsege’s partner and mother of their children, Mr Cameron admitted “Ethiopian authorities have resisted pressure” from British officials to have regular “access” to Mr Tsege.
“As a result of the lack of progress to date I have now written personally to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to request regular consular access and his assurance that the death penalty (which the British Government opposes in all circumstances) will not be imposed,” he added. “I very much hope that there will be further progress to report in response to my letter,” he concluded.
Responding to the news, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, commented: “The Prime Minister says he is ‘concerned’ – but where is the outrage at this flagrant breach of international law, and the ongoing abuse of a British citizen?”
She added: “Andy’s small children are terrified of losing their father, his partner is desperate with worry, and we are no closer to seeing Andy released and returned to safety. Enough delays – we need firm action now to bring him home to London.”
Tsege was arrested during a two-hour stop over in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a (EPA)
Reprieve has begun legal moves which could result in a judicial review to force Foreign Office officials to press for Mr Tsege’s immediate release and return to Britain – something which the Government has resisted to date. A letter to Treasury Solicitors, sent last week by lawyers acting for the charity, argues: “Far from not being ‘entitled’ to request his return, the UK Government has every reason to do so and we urge you to exercise that power as a matter of urgency.”
Meanwhile, Mr Tsege’s family remain in limbo. The past four months have been “agonising” said Ms Hailemariam. “Waking up every day not knowing where Andy is or how he’s being treated is taking a terrible toll on my children and myself.” She added: “The Prime Minister has told our family that he is taking action, but it seems like next to nothing is being done to get Andy back. The children and I need him here with us in London. The Government must demand his return, before it’s too late.”