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I’ve no regrets, says death row activist Andy Tsege

Campaigner freed from Ethiopian jail praises partner and children for their help

08 June, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege with his partner, Yemi Hailemariam

A PRO-DEMOCRACY campaigner celebrated freedom with a meal of blue cheese and crackers and said he “doesn’t regret” the political activism that landed him on death row.

Andargachew “Andy” Tsege was separated from his partner and three children who live in St John Street after being abducted in Yemen’s main airport and extradited to Ethiopia in 2014.

Mr Tsege is an active opposition politician and former Upper Holloway resident who was forced to leave his native Ethiopia in the 1970s following a government crackdown.

He told the Tribune: “I don’t regret my activism, but I regret not being more careful. Knowing how I am seen by the Ethiopian government I didn’t take any measures. Being abroad made me more relaxed.”

The 63-year-old was on his way to Eritrea to meet fellow activists when he was kidnapped and jailed in “terrible” conditions.

He was released last Tuesday after a new prime minister came into power in April and he returned to London three days later without any documents.

He said: “My time in prison is divided into two parts. For the first year-and-a-half I was in solitary confinement which was terrible and then I was kept in a cell with two convicted murderers. It was terrible, they had no morals and were completely improper.”

His first meal after arriving in London was blue cheese and crackers, which is one of his favourite snacks.

He was previously only able to eat fresh foods over the weekend when his 90-year-old father visited him in prison armed with supplies.

“On other days I ate oats, instant ones,” he said.

Mr Tsege was full of praise for his partner Yemi Hailemariam and their three children, Menabe, 10, Yilak, 10, and Helawit, 17, for helping secure his release.

“I am so proud of them. I was completely sealed in prison and I didn’t know the extent of their campaign.

“It surprised me the amount of things that happened. They have been so creative in their ways of campaigning, I didn’t know Yemi could do something like that. I knew she had some skills.

“I think she can be an election campaign manger,” he said.

On what his plans are now that he is freed, Mr Tsege said: “I have to sort out a number of little things – going to the doctors and dentist.

“I must recover a bit and become normal. I have a feeling Ethiopian politics won’t be as sacrifice-demanding any more. Change is happening, I sense it.”

Ms Hailemariam said of her partner’s return: “I’m so happy. I’m ecstatic and I am actually surprised how remarkably resilient he is.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned for Mr Tsege’s release over the last four years, will host a celebratory lunch for his former constituent next week.

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