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A British Man Is On Death Row in Ethiopia

Andargachew Tsige with his family

A British Man Is On Death Row in Ethiopia

By Oscar Rickett,

Andargachew Tsige, known to his friends and family as Andy, is a British citizen from Ethiopia. He came to England as a political refugee in 1979. Now he's back in Ethiopia, locked up and possibly enduring torture for being a political dissident, and the UK stands accused of not doing enough to help.

Tsige is the secretary general of Ginbot 7, an opposition group banned by the Ethiopian government. In 2009, he was sentenced to death at a trial held in Ethiopia in his absence for supposedly planning a coup. Then, in June this year, he was seized in Yemen, which has a security arrangement with Ethiopia. For two weeks, it seemed as though he had disappeared off the face of the Earth. Then, he emerged on Ethiopian state TV broadcasts, where it was revealed that he was being held in a secret detention facility. While he's unlikely to face a rarely imposed death sentence, he is currently on death row.

In the first video released, he appears for a short time and looks fairly healthy. But in the second, screaming can be heard in the background (just after the one-minute mark), and Tsige, looking thin and exhausted, is presented as if he is making a confession. A narrator says, in a haltingly edited piece of propaganda, that Tsige has been working with neighboring Eritrea—which has a longstanding feud with Ethiopia—that he has been disrupting the “peace and economic growth of Ethiopia,” and that he has been “training various people and sending ammunition through Eritrean borders.” His lawyers are concerned that evidence obtained through torture will be used to justify the sentence imposed on him.

Since his arrest, a UK Foreign Office (FCO) spokesperson told me, Tsige has only seen the British ambassador to Ethiopia once. That was back in August. “We are deeply concerned about his welfare,” the spokesperson said. “We want consular access and are pressing for further access to him.” David Cameron has written to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn “to request regular consular access and his assurance that the death penalty will not be imposed.”

Despite this diplomatic action, a British citizen is languishing on death row based on evidence that could have been gained through torture, and there has been no public condemnation of Ethiopia's actions. His advocates say it's not good enough. Human rights charity Reprieve has initiated legal proceedings against the Foreign Office (FCO) for its failure to treat Tsige’s abduction as a serious breach of international law.

Andy Tsige is raising three children with Yemi Hailemariam, his girlfriend of ten years. All three children have written to Cameron to ask what he is doing to get their father out of prison. Cameron, though, will be treading carefully. Strategically located in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a key ally to the West in the war on terror and has a close relationship with Britain. It is one of the main actors in the fight against Al Shabaab in Somalia. Ethiopia’s use of its anti-terrorism legislation to crack down on dissent of any kind is troubling. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, Ethiopia has become a surveillance state. Press freedom is deteriorating, particularly in the run-up to elections next May.

When I put this to a source in Ethiopia’s ministry of foreign affairs, he insisted that grounds for concern over terrorism in the region were legitimate. “I don’t think it is so much Ethiopia using its strategic importance to do what it wants. The government does genuinely feel it is in the frontline against terrorism—and in terms of terrorist activity it has some cause—Al-Shabaab is in Somalia and trying to make moves into Ethiopia as well as Kenya, Uganda, and so on.”

Ethiopia considers Ginbot 7 a terrorist group, and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn claims that “Andargachew Tsige is a Trojan horse for the Eritrean government to destabilize this country." Eritrea is where the Ethiopian opposition groups meet, and any connection to Eritrea can be milked by the Ethiopian government. According to a recent report submitted to the UN's Security Council by its Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, the Diplomatic missions and military officers of Eritrea are involved in the recruitment, training, and operational aspects of Ginbot 7.

But Ginbot 7 does not appear to be anything like Al-Shabaab. Its mission statement says that it is looking to establish a “national political system in which government power and political authority is assumed through peaceful and democratic process based on the free will and choice of citizens of the country.” Tsige’s family and lawyers insist that he is a peaceful man trying to stand up to an authoritarian regime.

My FCO spokesperson told me that more vocal lobbying is a “tool in our diplomatic arsenal,” to be used at the right moment. Old school diplomacy is still the order of the day, she said, and the British government's public line may change depending on how the case goes. My Ethiopian foreign ministry source implies that this might be the right approach, citing the experience of Martin Schibbye and Johann Persson, two Swedish journalists who spent nearly a year in an Ethiopian prison on terror charges from 2011 to 2012. They “would have been released months earlier if the Swedish foreign ministry and Human Rights Watch hadn’t kept making loud public noises about ill treatment and human rights abuse,” he said.

Maybe that's the cut and thrust of realpolitik, and the FCO is playing a savvy game. But a cynic might point out that there are grounds to believe that the British government’s approach is more about not showing up its ally than a desire to protect a British citizen.

Last year, internal documents from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) showed that millions of pounds of foreign aid money was set to fund the training of Ethiopian security forces in the Ogaden region, which has been accused of numerous human rights abuses and summary executions.

Then there’s a master’s program for Ethiopian security-sector officials, funded by DFID. A DFID document, still available online, reveals that places for Ethiopian officials on the “Executive Masters in Security Sector Management delivered to top and mid level military and civil servants in five cohorts” at Cranfield University, were set to be funded by the department up until 2017. The course has since been closed due to “concerns about risk and value for money.” I’m sure this is totally unrelated to any embarrassment that Tsige’s case might cause DFID. Despite the cancelation, the question remains: Can the British government be expected to stand up for Tsige while it is funding Ethiopia’s oppressive anti-terror operation?

Yemi Hailemariam, Andy’s long-term girlfriend, is worried that the father of her children will continue to suffer. “There needs to be clarity in the message the British government is sending to Ethiopia. They need to tell them, ‘This is our citizen. Please give him back,’” she said. Tsige’s lawyers, from the legal charity Reprieve, are just as concerned. Maya Foa, head of their death penalty team, said, “It beggars belief that the UK Government is not doing more to get him back.”

Tsige’s family are trying to hold themselves together. “I don’t feel at all confident about him coming back. I try not to think about it because when I do, I fall to pieces,” Yemi told me. Whatever happens, he “will be expected to ask for a pardon,” sources close to the case in Ethiopia tell me. If he does this, his death sentence will be replaced with a life sentence in prison, perhaps less. In a country that emphasizes security over human rights, and with the British intent on maintaining an important strategic and economic alliance, it may just be the best he can hope for.

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  1. And a Swidish man is in death raw in Eritrea.
    "birds of the same feather flock together"

  2. 1. Dawit Isaak has dual citizenship, while Andargachew Tsige is just British.

    2. Death row (or raw as you put it) is outlawed in Eritrea, so your point is mute.

    3. Thanks for continuing to prove to the rest of us that you are a Tigrayan pretending to be Eritrean.

    Every time Madote posts something about Ethiopia, you're quick to defend the Ethiopian regime, or change the subject to Eritrea.

    Just be yourself. We all know you're Ethiopian.

  3. the question should be who is next to be captured, could that be, mollalla asgedom? isayas afe korki, elias kifle,? no those are collaborators, but birr ahun amtu/ berhanu aynegam/, agena esatu, tamagn cadrew, and many undercover terrorists , no olf leader is on the list because they are all voluntarily surrendering.

  4. wow, you are dumb, no citizenship entitles you to commit yourself in a criminal act, andargachew is a proved criminal, supported with all sorts of evidences, and expected to receive his due date in court of law soon.
    now where is David wedi ato Isaac?? i am not asking about a legal issue but about where he could be?? is he dead or alive? i know he is a cia weyane, person of interest, less patriotic, bla bla, but again where is he??
    you see while you are busy glorifying the devil in you, you forgot that you could be his next meal or somebody dear to you, if you have any.

  5. Robel

    1 andargachew was a leader of political group (with an
    army that operates from camps in eritrea0 that is outlawed in Ethiopia. Dawit was a humble journalist who committed no crime at all. By the way andargachew
    was sentenced to death in an Ethiopian court (in absentee) whereas davit is waiting for over 10 years for his day in court.

    2. Death row is outlawed in Eritrea. Jailing people (
    in containers) for decades for no clear reason until they die because of stress, starvation of lack of medical attention as well as shooting people who attempt
    the leave Eritrea is not outlawed in Eritrea. So you point is nonsense and jovial.

    3. Being Tigraway an or having Tigray origin is not sin. If you don’t believe me, ask president Isaias, hagos
    gebrehiwet ( kisha), yemane ghebreab ( monkey), General abrha kassa, ali abdu, generla sebhat epherem, or the PFDJ secretary Alamin. If I were you, I would
    not raise the issue with them. For me, being an Eritrean is matter of feeling. There were many Eritreans who fought ageing Eritrean independence. There were
    also many Eritreans of Ethiopian origin that fought for the independence. If you don’t trust me , ask the people I mentioned,

    My point is this. Grow up and defend justice rather than screaming like mad parrot the who day whatever other
    people have said.

  6. I am not surprised about Andegachew atleast he is a leader of an opposition that is a threat to Weyane (EPRDF); how about Dawit Issac? He was just a normal criticize like you and I who reported what was true he never been to court or no one knows where he is. Isn't he is Swedish-Eritrean? Please guys feel shame to point out your finger while our government is the leader in locking up people without justice. For God sake how many innocent Eritrean are in jail with no one even got them to court. Besides Andergachew is in court process, he wasn't even convicted to death to post you guys he is in "Death Row". God, what a shame on you.

  7. Please guys feel shame to point out your finger while our government is the leader in locking up people without justice. For God sake how many innocent Eritrean are in jail with no one even got them to court. Besides Andergachew is in court process, he wasn't even convicted to death to post you guys he is in "Death Row". God, what a shame on you.

  8. You can call me Ethiopan or Egypian and I careless of that. I m die hard Eritrean, supporter of justice, freedom and dignity. HIGDEF has stripped off the dignity of our nation. Today Eritreas position is among the worst of worst.

    Wake up bro!

  9. I hope his own people will work to free him from the hyena minor regime in ethiopia, people have to start exactly the 2005 style strike, and dismiss weyana once for all.

  10. Robel, are you saying that the outlaw regime in Eritrea is imprisoning tens of thousands of innocent people because they don't have a single American or European citizenship. shame on you

  11. An outlaw regime follows the jungle law. In Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda..etc, tell me who is the law maker, the law enforcer, the judge...etc. An all in one is what has been for decades. Thanks


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