Foreign Office takes two weeks to confirm death-row Briton still alive

By agency reporter
November 23, 2016

The Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has confirmed that a Briton held on death row in Ethiopia is still alive, two weeks after hearing that his life may be in danger.

On 28 October 2016, UK diplomats in Ethiopia received a message that British father-of-three Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege was "in fear for his life", following violence at the prison where he is held under sentence of death. The fears for Mr Tsege escalated after the FCO struggled to secure permission from Ethiopia to see or to speak with him directly. UK officials were finally permitted to check on him last Friday (11 November), the Foreign Office has now confirmed to Mr Tsege’s family and MPs.

The recent concerns for Mr Tsege’s wellbeing came three months after the UK was last permitted a consular visit to Mr Tsege. The delay has cast doubt on a recent claim by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, that “regular consular access” was “now in place” for Mr Tsege. Mr Johnson cited consular access as a sign that Mr Tsege’s situation had improved. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/23549)

Mr Tsege has been imprisoned unlawfully in Ethiopia since 2014, when he was kidnapped at an international airport and rendered to the country. In 2009, while he was in London with his family, an Ethiopian court illegally handed Mr Tsege an in absentia death sentence, in relation to his criticism of the Ethiopian ruling party.

For the first year after his kidnap, Mr Tsege was held incommunicado, amid fears that he may be being tortured. Since then, the UK has been permitted a series of infrequent, monitored visits with him, amid a growing crackdown on dissenting voices in the country.

The UK Government has said it is trying to secure "legal access" for Mr Tsege within Ethiopia. However, hehas not yet been permitted to see a lawyer. Last month it emerged that the Foreign Secretary has raised the issue directly with his Ethiopian counterpart three times since taking office.

The human rights organisation Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family in London, has raised concerns about the UK Government’s approach to his case, and is urging the FCO to request his return to Britain.

Mr Tsege’s family in London have spoken to him once since his kidnap, in a brief phone call before Christmas 2014

Maya Foa, a director at Reprieve, said: “While Andy’s partner and kids in London are breathing a sigh of relief that he is alive, it’s terrifying that the Foreign Office appears powerless to help a British father whose life could be in danger. Boris Johnson continues to trust in the Ethiopian authorities’ empty promises on Andy’s case, even when – over two years on from his kidnap – Ethiopia is clearly still giving the UK the run-around. Andy has already suffered a series of shocking abuses, from an unlawful in absentia death sentence, to kidnap, rendition, and torture. Enough is enough – ministers must tell Ethiopia to end Andy’s illegal detention, and return him to Britain.”

* Reprieve http://www.reprieve.org.uk/

[Ekk/4]

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