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Clerkenwell campaigner: ‘We must protect our citizens abroad’

Campaigners highlight Ethopian death row case in demands for end to Foreign Office ‘inertia’

02 August, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Andy and Yemi’s wedding last year at Islington Town Hall

A CAMPAIGNER from Clerkenwell whose husband was illegally imprisoned in Ethiopia for four years has called for a change in the law to protect British citizens arbitrarily detained abroad.

Yemi Hailemariam publicly campaigned to free her pro-democracy activist partner Andargachew “Andy” Tsege after he was kidnapped in Eritrea and jailed on death row in “terrible” conditions in Ethiopia. He was eventually freed in June last year.

Ms Hailemariam told the Tribune: “Our case is emblematic of the problems with the  foreign office. Ethiopia is a friendly nation [to Britain], and Britain really had an influence in different sectors of the country, especially as the biggest donor to Ethiopia.

“But the priorities of trade and strategic bilateral relations took precedence over challenging Andy’s detention.

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] didn’t support him in a fundamental way, and question why he was detained, and why he was not getting regular healthcare. They did not challenge that at all.”

Mr Tsege was an active opposition politician in Ethiopia before he was forced to leave the country following a government crackdown in the 1970s. He was tried and sentenced to death in absentia.

Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege with his partner, Yemi Hailemariam

Ms Hailemariam joined Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – an Iranian and British national currently held in an Iranian jail on vague spying charges – to launch a petition calling for a change in the law that will ensure the British government has to do everything it can to help free British citizens illegally detained overseas.

The online petition calling on the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “protect your citizens abroad” reached its target of 200,000 signatures in just a few days.

Ms Hailemariam said: “The big lesson learned during the campaign to free Andy was that there is absolutely no legal protection for British citizens abroad and there was nowhere to go if you feel the Foreign Office is not doing what it should be doing.”

A High Court judge denied an application by Andy’s daughter, Menabe, for a judicial review of the FCO’s handling of his case back in 2016.

Ms Hailemariam said: “I feel the modus operandi of the UK government is inertia. In that kind of atmosphere you have to take matters into your own hands. The only time the government do anything is when there is public pressure.”

She did praise some of the assistance offered to her partner by the British Embassy in Ethiopia.

“They were a lifeline for him, they were our only hope. They delivered books.”

She said her “instinct” said Mr Johnson would back the petition, adding: “It’s patriotic to help your citizens abroad”.

An FCO spokeswoman said: “We provide our assistance consistently to all those we support.

“We regularly review the consular support we offer to British nationals overseas to learn from feedback and to continue to improve.”

To find out more go to the petition:

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