The Foreign Secretary refused to contact the Ethiopian government to protest its abduction of a British man, it’s emerged, despite warnings from Foreign Office (FCO) staff that the man was at risk of execution.
Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a father of three from London, was abducted in Yemen and rendered to Ethiopia seven months ago today. Mr. Tsege, who is a prominent critic of the Ethiopian government, remains in incommunicado detention. The Ethiopian government has refused to reveal his whereabouts, or confirm whether it plans to carry out a death sentence imposed in absentia in 2009.
Internal FCO emails obtained through subject access requests by Mr. Tsege’s family show that UK officials were extremely concerned that he would be mistreated or executed – but that despite this, nearly a month after the incident, the Foreign Secretary declined requests to intervene in his case.
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An internal email sent by senior FCO staff several days after Mr. Tsege’s disappearance says: “I think we should be aiming for a Ministerial call asap, given concerns about welfare and the DP [death penalty]… we should be raising at senior levels and getting in Ministerial follow-up (letter or call) asap to make clear how unhappy we are about this.”
A separate message suggested there should be consequences at “a UK citizen being kidnapped and returned against his will to a country which has passed two death sentences on him. A country which is in receipt of vast quantities of UK development assistance. Don’t we need to do more than give them a stern talking to?”
A number of urgent internal FCO messages asked the incoming Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond to contact the Ethiopian Foreign Minister in the days following the incident, the documents show. However, Mr. Hammond’s office rebuffed the requests, saying: “we’ve also had a request from [Foreign Minister] Tedros’ office for an introductory call with the Foreign Secretary, but I don’t think we are going to be able to find time for that at the moment. […] On this letter, I’m nervous about asking the Foreign Secretary to sign something so negative in his first correspondence”.
The FCO has told lawyers for Mr. Tsege’s family at human rights charity Reprieve that the UK Government has no grounds to challenge the legality of his removal from Ethiopia.
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said: “It is clear that those working for the Foreign Secretary know how perilous the situation is for Andy Tsege. They know that Andy has committed no crime, that his extradition was probably unlawful, and that there are grave risks to his safety. What’s shocking is that the Foreign Secretary appears time and time again to have blocked any meaningful action that could potentially bring this British father home to his family, unharmed. Andy has now been held in solitary and incommunicado detention for over seven months, under sentence of death. One has to question what interests the Foreign Secretary is putting above the life and safety of his citizen, when all those around him are calling for him to do more.”