Politicians from the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union have sent a letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn urging the release of British citizen Andargachew “Andy” Tsege, a political activist who has been held incommunicado for more than a year and has been sentenced to death.
The father of three was on his way to Eritrea to attend an opposition conference on June 23, 2014 when he was detained in Sana’a, Yemen, during a layover, at the behest of the Ethiopian government.
Tsege, 60, a former secretary-general of a banned opposition party, had already been sentenced to death in absentia by an Ethiopian court in 2009.
The letter, obtained only by Al Jazeera, criticizes the Ethiopian authorities for conducting a “deeply flawed” trial and demands the release of Tsege, who is kept in solitary confinement and subjected to artificial light 24 hours a day.
“You have emphasized in the past Ethiopia’s commitment to human rights, but it is unconscionable and illegal for your government to have targeted Mr. Tsege in this way. Your government’s treatment of him is a stain on its reputation, and threatens to isolate Ethiopia internationally,” said the letter, co-authored in June by California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Other politicians who signed off on the letter include British parliament members Jeremy Corbyn, Baron Dholakia, and Emily Thornberry along with European Parliament officials Ana Gomes and Richard Howitt.
British officials have only been permitted to see Tsege three times since his arrest in monitored visits that take place away from his jail cell, circumstances that lawyers say prevent him from speaking openly about his mistreatment.
The Independent reported that during one of those visits, in April, Tsege told Greg Dorey, the British ambassador to Ethiopia that he would prefer being executed to remaining in detention.
“Seriously, I am happy to go — it would be preferable and more humane,” Tsege reportedly said.
Yemi Hailemariam, Tsege’s partner and mother of his children, said the ordeal has left the family devasted.
“It’s dreadful, what has happened. The way he was taken, it’s really terrifying. I was hoping things would evolve quickly and he would be released, but it feels like it’s only getting worse and worse,” she told Al Jazeera America in an exclusive interview.
Concerns that he is being mistreated by Ethiopian authorities, who routinely subject political detainees to torture, grew after the Ethiopian government released videos of a gaunt and disoriented Tsege apparently confessing to a number of offenses.
UK-based legal charity Reprieve submitted the videos to an expert for analysis who concluded that Tsege exhibited signs of torture.
“The expert found that there are signs of significant deterioration in his mental condition, an indicia of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] that could be the result of torture. And we already know that torture is pretty endemic at Ethiopian detention sites,” said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team.
She described Tsege’s arrest in Yemen and rendition to Ethiopia as a “politically motivated abduction.”
Ethiopia’s embassy in Washington and its mission in New York did not respond to Al Jazeera’s calls and e-mails for comment.
International human rights organizations have long criticized Ethiopia’s ruling party for its abysmal human rights record. Activists cite growing repression and the recent passage of draconian legislation that has targeted journalists and opposition parties.
A recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Ethiopia as the fourth most censored country in the world, trailing behind Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
Just this week, Ethiopia imposed lengthy jail sentences on religious leaders, a journalist and 13 human rights activists, the Sudan Tribune reported on Monday.
President Barack Obama recently traveled to the East African country, a staunch ally in the so-called war on terror. During a joint press conference with the country’s prime minister, Obama called Ethiopia’s government “democratically elected.”
His comments were heavily criticized by African activists and journalists.
The next day, Obama appeared to tone down his remarks and urged African leaders to uphold democratic rights.
The seemingly conflicting remarks were questioned by rights activists.
“Yesterday he was a tricky and mischievous politician,” Yonathan Tesfaye, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s opposition Blue Party, told The Associated Press.
“And today he has become a passionate inspirational human rights activist,” Tesfaye added. “Which one should we believe? Which one should we go with?”
Tsege’s partner Hailemariam called the comments disturbing and inconsistent.
“There needs to be a clear, consistent message sent to the Ethiopian government. That you can’t violate human rights, you can’t abduct activists and take them to other countries. These are actions by a government that should be condemned, not praised,” she said.
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