The nine-year-old American daughter of a British activist who was rendered to Ethiopia has launched legal action against the UK Government, for its refusal to request his return.
Lawyers for Menabe Andargachew, 9, a joint US-UK citizen living in London, have begun judicial review proceedings against the British Foreign Office over ministers’ handling of the case of her father, Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege.
Mr Tsege, a British citizen with American family, was kidnapped and illegally rendered to Ethiopia by forces of that country in June 2014. He remains held there under a sentence of death imposed in absentia in 2009 in relation to his political opposition to the Ethiopian Government.
With the exception of one brief telephone conversation in 2014, Mr Tsege has not been allowed to speak to his family. He has not been allowed access to a lawyer, nor brought before any court, and the Ethiopian prison authorities continue to deny that he is in their custody. Torture is common in Ethiopia, and there are fears for Mr Tsege’s wellbeing.
American diplomats observing Mr Tsege’s in absentia trial in 2009 described it as a means of “political retaliation”, which “lacked basic elements of due process”. In emails obtained by the international human rights organization Reprieve in 2014, British officials have said they “have not been shown any evidence [against Mr Tsege] that would stand up in a UK court”.
The UN’s Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the European Parliament have previously called for Mr Tsege to be released, as have US members of Congress. In a statement published today by NBC News, Senator Ben Cardin, who sits on the US Foreign Relations Committee, said “Mr. Tsege’s grave case is one of many that gives cause for concern.”
In the internal documents obtained by Reprieve, British officials said they believed Mr Tsege’s rendition to Ethiopia to be “completely unacceptable”, with some asking whether the UK had a basis for a “legal challenge”. However, the British government has refused to ask Ethiopia to release Mr Tsege.
Mr Tsege’s daughter Menabe is now challenging that position, arguing that given the illegality of his kidnap, detention and death sentence, the UK’s decision not to ask for Mr Tsege’s release – something it has done in other similar cases – is unlawful.
Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Tsege’s family in the US and the UK, said:
“Andy Tsege has been subjected to a series of shocking breaches of international law by a supposed UK ally – from kidnap, to rendition, to an in absentia death sentence – simply because he expressed criticism of the Ethiopian regime. It’s deeply disappointing, and simply irrational, that the British government refuses to ask for his release and put an end to these abuses. Enough is enough – ministers must call on Ethiopia to free Andy, and return him to his family without delay.”
Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.