The UK Is Too Busy Cooperating with Ethiopia on Anti-Terrorism to Help a …

Andy Tsege with Yemi Hailemariam and their children

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.

Andargachew Tsege, known to his friends and family as Andy, is
a British citizen who has been held in a secret prison in Ethiopia
since June. The government of the East African country has used its stringent
anti-terrorism laws, adapted from British and American ones, to charge Tsege
with plotting a coup and has sentenced him to death. While he’s unlikely to actually
face a rarely-imposed death sentence, he is on death row.




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Now, UK Foreign Office (FCO) emails obtained by Tsege’s
partner Yemi Hailemariam and shared
exclusively with VICE, reveal that while an FCO analysis of Tsege’s appearances
on Ethiopian television concludes that he has been “broken” by his recent
experiences—which are thought to include torture—a phone call shortly
afterward between Britain’s then minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, and the
Ethiopian minster of foreign affairs, Tedros
Adhanom, concluded with Simmonds inviting Ethiopia’s intelligence chief to
London to discuss increased cooperation on anti-terrorism initiatives between the two

Prior to this, Simmonds had merely raised “concerns about lack of
consular access” and had mentioned increased parliamentary attention to the
case. At a recent African Union summit in Ethiopia, British officials failed to
bring up Tsege’s case with their Ethiopian counterparts even though, Yemi tells
me, they’d promised her they would.

Former Africa Minister Mark Simmonds. Simmonds quit politics last year citing “intolerable” parliamentary allowances restrictions

The legal charity Reprieve has taken up Tsege’s case. Maya Foa, the head
of their death penalty team, told me, “Eight months after Andy Tsege’s
abduction by Ethiopian forces, it’s astounding to see that British ministers
knew he was being tortured from the start—but still chose to make nice with
their Ethiopian counterparts. This is a British citizen facing a death sentence
at the hands of a notoriously brutal government—one that appears to face no
consequences for its actions. It is high time the UK took decisive action to
end his ordeal.”

Tsege fled Ethiopia in 1979 and was granted British
citizenship, thereby renouncing his Ethiopian citizenship. He is the secretary
general of Ginbot 7—one of the many opposition groups banned by an Ethiopian government
that, a source in its foreign ministry told me, sees democracy as being low on
its list of priorities. In 2009, he was sentenced to death at a mass trial held
in Ethiopia in his absence, for supposedly planning a coup. On June 23, 2014, he flew to Eritrea to meet other members of Ginbot 7. He was abducted in
transit at an airport in Yemen by Ethiopian security forces and brought to a
facility in Ethiopia.

Reprieve attorneys have been allowed no contact whatsoever with their
client. Tsege has spoken to Yemi and
their three children only once, and has met with the UK’s ambassador to
Ethiopia twice in the eight months he’s been detained. On both occasions, he
had a hood put over his head and was driven to a secret location away from the
secret location of his prison. Reprieve and Tsege’s family accuse the
British government of being afraid to upset Ethiopia, which is a key regional
ally in the war on terror and a recipient of hundreds of millions of pounds of
British aid every year.

The FCO analyst’s email calls Tsege’s arrest an “important
symbolic victory” for the Ethiopian government, the ruling party, and its
supporters. Alongside this it notes “a worrying tendency of the security
agencies of the GoE [Government of Ethiopia] to act in disregard of
international standards and consequences.” A number of journalists have been
arrested in the last year and Ethiopia has also exercised its power to abduct opposition
politicians living in neighboring countries.

The FCO notes Ethiopia’s increased projection of power in
the region and the desire of neighboring governments to co-operate with it.
Just over a year ago, two senior members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front—a separatist militia from a
region in the east of Ethiopia, which the government calls terrorists—were
abducted by Ethiopian security services in Nairobi. And last September, the former president of one of
Ethiopia’s Gambella region, was kidnapped in South Sudan, charged with
terrorism and then
allegedly beaten up in prison by a government mole. Reflecting on the recent arrests and the Ethiopian government’s desire to link
Tsege’s illegal Ginbot 7 movement with legal opposition groups, the FCO analyst
reports that it “bodes ill for the prospects of democratization and a
reasonably competitive election next year.”

It also continues to bode ill for Tsege himself. Ethiopia
has this month refused to allow a delegation from the British parliament to
visit him. Rachel Nicholson, Amnesty International’s campaigner on the Horn of
Africa, said that this decision reflected the “severe restrictions on access
to detention centers to monitor the treatment of detainees more generally in
the country. Amnesty International continues to receive frequent reports of
torture and ill treatment, usually in the early stages of detention.”


When I spoke to
Yemi this week, she told me that “nothing has changed” since her partner was
abducted by Ethiopia, and that she believes the FCO is practicing a form of
“malaise diplomacy” that sees ministers treat Tsege’s case as some sort of
dutiful “obligation” they must briefly mention before getting on to more
important matters. “They aren’t fighting Andy’s corner,” she says. “There’s no
clarity in the message. Andy is being kept in solitary confinement, exposed to
artificial light 24/7 and prevented from having any private access to lawyers
or the British consulate… The Ethiopians have classified him as a terrorist,
which is what they classify anyone who disagrees with them. But regardless of
what they think, there are legal ways of going about doing what they are

The government, she believes, would be doing a lot more to
help Tsege if he was a white, British-born citizen. Yemi says that after he was
abducted, it took the British government two weeks to determine whether her
partner was a British citizen or not. “They don’t think we’re English,” she
told me.

Responding to the record of Mark Simmonds’ phone call and
its analyst’s email, an FCO spokesperson defended what they had been doing for
Andy. The “documents quoted cover only a small amount of the considerable
effort the UK has put into this case,” he said, adding that, “the foreign secretary raised Mr. Tsege’s case
with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister shortly after his detention in June and
again in August, September, November, and December.”

It seems that, without any force or threat behind them,
these efforts are easily ignored. With the British unwilling to rock the boat,
the dialogue between the two countries remains focused on aid and intelligence
co-operation. Meanwhile, Andy Tsege’s lawyers and family wonder if they will
ever see him again. On the phone, Yemi sounds exhausted. “What is becoming
harder is for me to remain hopeful,” she says.

Follow Oscar Rickett on Twitter.

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