Special rapporteur on torture asks UK and Ethiopian governments about detention of Andargachew Tsige amid claims of ill-treatment
The detention of a British citizen held on death row in Ethiopia for almost a year is being investigated by the United Nations official responsible for preventing torture.
Andargachew Tsige was arrested last June while in transit through Yemen’s main airport and forcibly removed to Addis Ababa. He is the leader of an opposition party and had been condemned to death several years earlier in his absence.
Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, has written to the Ethiopian and UK governments saying he is investigating the treatment of Tsige. There are claims Tsige is being deprived of sleep and held in isolation.
His partner, Yemi Hailemariam, also a British national, who lives in London with their three children, said she had only spoken to him once by telephone since his abduction. “He’s in prison but we have no idea where he is being held,” she said. “He said he was OK but I’m sure the call was being listened to.
“He had been in Dubai and was flying on to Eritrea when the plane stopped over in Yemen. He hadn’t even been through immigration. We think Yemeni security took him and handed him over to the Ethiopians.
“They say there was an extradition agreement but it was so quick there was no time for any semblance of a legal hearing. Yemen and Ethiopia had close relations then. The [Ethiopian] government have put him on television three times in heavily edited interviews, saying he was revealing secrets
“He has been kept under artificial light 24 hours a day and no one [other than the UK ambassador] has had access to him. I feel angry with the Foreign Office. They know they could do more. They have political leverage they could use but have not done so.”
Tsige, 60, known as Andy, had previously been secretary general of Ginbot 7, a political opposition party that called for democracy, free elections and civil rights. He first came to the UK in 1979. The Ethiopian government has accused him of being a terrorist. In 2009, he was tried with others in his absence and sentenced to death.
No effort was made to extradite him to face the court. A US embassy cable, released through WikiLeaks, described the trial as “lacking in basic elements of due process”.
“[Andy] is a politician, not a terrorist,” said Hailemariam. “It’s just the Ethiopian government that thinks it does not need to make any space for the opposition. A delegation of British MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, were stopped from travelling to Ethiopia in February. They are hoping to try again.”