By Yemi Hailemariam
Originally posted on the Huffington Post
My British partner, Andargachew “Andy” Tsege, has spent over two years on Ethiopia’s death row for daring to speak out against one of Africa’s most brutal dictatorships.
Last week I went to the High Court in London with our three children for a hearing about how the Foreign Office has handled Andy’s case. The court said it could not force the British government to do more to help Andy. “I am sad because I thought this judge would help us bring back my dad,” our nine-year-old daughter told me afterwards.
Every British passport says Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State promises to ensure that the bearer should receive “such assistance and protection as may be necessary.” In other words, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, has a duty to help British citizens like Andy when they are in peril abroad.
We went to court because in two years the Foreign Office has not even called for Andy’s release, something it has done in many similar cases. When Boris became Foreign Secretary, I hoped he would help Andy. After all, as Mayor of London, he wrote to me saying, “I am truly saddened to hear of Mr Tsege’s situation….. with no foreign policy remit, any other intervention is beyond my powers as Mayor of London…I very much hope Mr Tsege safely returns to the UK in the near future.”
Now that Boris has the power to help, I was sickened to see his lawyers tell the court they were “comfortable” that Andy is not being ill-treated. How can they say this when British Embassy staff only visit Andy with a guard in the room? Andy would be forced to say he is the victim of torture in front of his torturers.
Boris should listen to the UN, whose Special Rapporteur on Torture said in February that “Ethiopia, by subjecting Mr. Tsege to torture, ill-treatment, prolonged solitary confinement and incommunicado detention, by denying him access to adequate medical care and legal process, and by sentencing him to death without due process for a non-violent crime, has violated his right to be free from torture.” Or the US State Department, which in its 2015 report on Ethiopia, found that “security officials tortured and otherwise abused detainees.”
Instead, Boris’s barristers argued that there has been no “grave breach of international law, particularly in the context of human rights”. I think Andy’s case involves lots of violations and abuses. He was kidnapped off a plane in the Middle East and bundled into Ethiopia, where he was constantly shackled for the first fortnight and held in a secret prison for months. He now sits in a cell facing execution for his peaceful political opposition to a repressive Ethiopian regime, after a trial where he was not invited to be present.
The Foreign Office claims that doing more for Andy “would have consequences for [our] relationship with Ethiopia…” So Boris is more worried about offending a totalitarian state than repatriating a British citizen to his family. This is appeasement. When did those who represent Britain become so cowardly?
Sign Reprieve’s petition to bring Andy home