December 20, 2016
Two Britons held in prison unlawfully should be released immediately so they can spend Christmas with their families, an MP has said.
Andy Tsege is on Death Row in Ethiopia after disappearing while on a stopover in Yemen in June 2014 and being rendered to the east African country, where he had been tried and found guilty of terrorism in his absence.
The father-of-three’s arrest came amid a sweeping crackdown on opposition figures and campaigners believe it was politically motivated.
Meanwhile, British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker, has been sentenced to five years in prison in Iran for allegedly plotting to topple the government in Tehran.
Liberal Democrat MP and foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake said the Government “is not living up to its duty to protect British citizens facing the death penalty overseas” by failing to publicly demand the pair’s release.
Leading a Westminster Hall debate on the two detainees, he said: “They need to call openly and loudly for Iran and Ethiopia to free Nazanin and Andy respectively.
“I believe the weight of the Prime Minister calling for their release would be significant and set a strong tone. “And the tone would be that the UK does not stand by and let their citizens face appalling treatment trapped in prisons thousands of miles from their homes.”
He added: “If we were to get just one official public statement from our Prime Minister unequivocally calling for Andy and Nazanin’s release, and the release of other British nationals imprisoned unlawfully abroad, I believe that would convince the public that our Government will stand up for its citizens and send a strong and unequivocal message to those foreign governments.
“My call is for the Prime Minister, the Government and perhaps the minister today to give Andy’s and Nazanin’s families some seasonal comfort over the next week, pick up the phone, issue a statement and call for their release.”
He warned that by failing to condemn the arrests, ministers are sending a signal that foreign governments “can ignore international law and kidnap British citizens at will”.
And he accused the Government of appearing to acquiesce with the “dubious charges” faced by the two Britons by stating that the Foreign Office will not get involved in another country’s legal system.
Mr Tsege had successfully claimed asylum in the UK and lived with his partner and three children in Islington, north London, before his imprisonment.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 37, from Hampstead in north-west London, was trying to return home after visiting family with her 22-month-old daughter Gabriella when she was arrested at Tehran Airport on April 3 this year.
Mr Tsege was bound, hooded and kidnapped to Ethiopia where he has been imprisoned in what is known as “Ethiopia’s gulag”, MPs heard. Since being imprisoned, he has been paraded on TV looking gaunt and ill and allowed only occasional visits from Britain’s consular services, and never in private, the debate heard.
Labour MP Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) said Britain’s stance that it does not intervene in other countries’ affairs should only be followed where those states uphold the rule of law. She said: “Surely we have a responsibility to speak out where freedom of expression is under threat?”
Ms McCarthy added: “I would say it is shameful, it is indefensible, to treat a British citizen in this way.” The debate comes as the Government faces criticism for giving a reported £5.2 million in aid to the Ethiopian girl group Yegna.
DUP MP Jim Shannon (Strangford) said: “There is something seriously wrong when a girl band they call Ethiopia’s Spice Girls can receive £5.2m in aid on top of the £4m they have already received – £9.2m – that we can give an Ethiopian Spice Girls band £9.2m but we can’t help this man Andy. “I think that is disgraceful.”