ANDARGACHEW TSIGE, an exiled Ethiopian opposition leader with British nationality, could be facing the death penalty after apparently being arrested and sent back to his country of origin while on a trip to the Gulf. While transiting in Yemen on June 23rd, during a journey from Dubai to Eritrea, Andargachew mysteriously ended up on a plane to Ethiopia. It is believed that he was detained by Yemeni officials and handed over to members of Ethiopia’s security apparatus.
Andargachew was charged by the Ethiopian authorities with terrorism and sentenced, in absentia, to death, at two separate trials between 2009 and 2012. Following post-election protests in 2005 he had fled the country and been granted asylum in Britain, where he created Ginbot 7, a leading opposition movement.
Now in the hands of the state which had legally prepared for his execution, his family are concerned about Andargachew’s safety. “The British embassy has still not been granted consular access,” says his wife, Yemisrach Hailemariam, who lives in London. “We are deeply concerned he is being tortured and they will wait for his wounds to be healed before anyone can see him.”
There are concerns that Yemen’s government did not follow the correct procedures for extradition. It is believed that Andargachew was arrested and flown to Addis Ababa without British officials being formally alerted. According to Anand Doobay, an extradition expert at Peters & Peters, a law firm, under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations the British embassy should have been notified that one of its citizens was being detained and given the chance to visit him. “Sometimes there is no legal extradition process and then there is a risk that rendition can take place following informal contact between police forces,” he says.
In recent years Ethiopia has conducted several extraditions with varying degrees of legality. Recently Okello Okuway, a Norwegian national, was arrested in South Sudan and extradited to Ethiopia. In June he was brought to court and faces terrorism charges. Prior to that Kenya detained and extradited two Ethiopian members of the Oromo ethnic group accused of having links to Oromo rebels, who were then sentenced to life in prison. One of them died in 2013 serving his term. Kenya also detained and sent a Canadian passport holder back to Ethiopia, where he faces terrorism charges for alleged links rebels from the Ogaden region. Human Rights Watch states that various other political refugees have been sent back from neighbouring countries.
“The region has always been dangerous for political activists,” says Jawar Mohammed, an Ethiopian political commentator based in America. “However, in the past kidnapping or assassinations were carried out by the Ethiopian security. Now such action is being undertaken by security services of the neighboring countries. This makes it extremely dangerous.” He believes that Yemeni officials may have been eager to take a knock at the government of Eritrea, Andargachew’s destination, because of the ongoing conflict between Yemen and Eritrea over the Hanish islands in the Red Sea.
Now that Andargachew is on Ethiopian soil, where he is considered a terrorist, his fate remains uncertain. His wife has called on the British government to step up their efforts. “If the British government allows Ethiopia to get away with kidnapping its citizen in international territory and stands by as they continue to torture, detain, and potentially execute my husband, then it sets a very bad precedent for the security of any Brit travelling abroad,” she says. British diplomats say they are demanding access to Andargachew, so far without success.
This article was first published by The Economist.com