Op-Ed: The Government must help rescue British man Andy Tsege from death row
Inside the front cover of my passport, I am always reassured to read that the UK Government offers me “such assistance and protection as may be necessary” when I leave British shores. But I am reminded by one case in particular that protection is not always guaranteed. The Ethiopian government has been holding a British father from Islington, Andy Tsege, on death row for more than three years and our leaders have so far failed to get him home.
As International Development Secretary I regularly visited Ethiopia and was always warmly welcomed. We rightly see it as a key ally in a somewhat unstable region. But when an ally acts against the values we go to such lengths to protect back home, we have a duty to speak out. It is time for our Government to negotiate Andy’s return to his family.
Andy first came to the UK in 1979 and later became a British citizen after being granted political asylum. He met his partner, Yemi, in London and they brought up three children.
The way Andy ended up in an Ethiopian jail is particularly disturbing. He was convicted in his absence while he was in living in London in a trial that US diplomats described as a form of “political retaliation”. He was then kidnapped by security forces when he was transferring through an international airport in June 2014 and transported illegally to Ethiopia. He was paraded on Ethiopian state television and, apart from one snatched phone call just before Christmas 2014, his poor children and family have not heard his voice since.
As the Bar Council and Law Society concluded this month, these flagrant breaches of the rule of law make Andy’s continued detention unlawful.
Boris Johnson has hosted the Ethiopian Prime Minister in London and he has been hosted in Ethiopia. He has raised Andy’s case without success so far. The Foreign Secretary has also been rebuffed in his efforts to secure Yemi a visa to visit Andy, as he promised at a press conference in Addis Ababa in March. But that does not mean we should back down.
I am confident a solution can be found to get Andy home to his partner and three children in London by Christmas. The minister with responsibility for Andy’s case, Rory Stewart, is a man whom I respect for his history of effective diplomacy in challenging circumstances. The Foreign Secretary himself has shown that he is prepared to speak out when he disagrees with one of our allies.
Together they, along with Andy’s many supporters, should be able to do a deal with the Ethiopian government to secure Andy’s return. It might not be an easy deal to strike, but it can’t be as hard as the bitter reality that if nothing is done, once again his children will be forced to endure another Christmas without their father.