THE British government told Ethiopia on Thursday its treatment of an imprisoned opposition figure, who is also a British national, was unacceptable and that the case risked hurting ties between the two countries.
Andargachew Tsige was sentenced to death in 2009 in absentia over his involvement with an opposition political group and another trial handed him life behind bars three years later. He was arrested in Yemen in 2014 and extradited to Ethiopia.
In an unusually blunt statement, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he delivered a stern message to his Ethiopian counterpart Tedros Adhanom and urge for rapid progress in the case of Andargachew Tsige, who is being held in solitary confinement in an unknown location in Ethiopia.
“I am deeply concerned that, a year after he was first detained, British national Andargachew (Andy) Tsige remains in solitary confinement in Ethiopia without a legal process to challenge his detention,” Hammond said in a statement after the call.
“I am also concerned for his welfare and disappointed that our repeated requests for regular consular access have not been granted, despite promises made.”
The foreign secretary’s comments, released a year after Tsige was abducted while transiting through Yemen, is a clear sign of official disapproval of the approach taken by the regime in Addis Abbaba. The Foreign Office is escalating the case beyond confidential diplomatic exchanges.
Britain summoned Ethiopia’s chargé d’affaires in August last year to seek assurances that Tsige would not be put to death.
Secretary-general of the Ginbot 7 political group, he was among 20 opposition figures and journalists charged with conspiring with rebels, plotting attacks and attempting to topple the government.
Hammond said Britain’s ties with Ethiopia were at risk.
“I spoke to foreign minister Tedros and made clear that Ethiopia’s failure to grant our repeated and basic requests is not acceptable. I informed Dr Tedros that the lack of progress risks undermining the UK’s much valued bilateral relationship with Ethiopia.
“I asked Tedros once again to permit immediate regular consular access and for our concerns regarding Mr Tsige’s welfare to be addressed. I have also asked that the Ethiopian authorities facilitate a visit by Mr Tsige’s family. Foreign Office officials will continue to provide consular support both to Mr Tsige and to his family during this difficult time.”
“Ethiopia’s failure to grant our repeated and basic requests is not acceptable,” he said. “The lack of progress risks undermining the UK’s much valued bilateral relationship with Ethiopia.”
The Ethiopian government has accused him of being a terrorist. In 2009, he was tried with others in his absence and sentenced to death. The latest reports suggest that his health is deteriorating.
Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, has written to the Ethiopian and UK governments saying he is investigating Tsige’s treatment.