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Etenesh Abera

Addis Abeba, May 08/2018 – Netizens have once again taken to online campaign with the hashtag #FreeAndargachewTsige to highlight the plights of Andargachew Tsige, a.k.a Andy Tsige, who is in an Ethiopian jail since 2014.  Netizens are now demanding Ethiopia to release him unconditionally and also asking the UK government to put pressure on Ethiopia to secure his release. The Ethiopian born politician and author is a British passport holder.

 

Andargachew is the co-founder and secretary-general of Ginbot 7, Movement for Justice, Freedom and Democracy . He was among hundreds of opposition politicians, journalists, civil society organization representatives and rights activists to have been arrested and charged with, among others, outrage against the constitution following the post 2005 general election crackdowns, in which about 200 civilians were also gunned down in the streets of Addis Abeba alone.

Two years later, Andargachew left the country after charges against many of the detainees, including Dr. Berhanu Nega, the co-founder of Ginbot 7, were discontinued. Both him and Dr. Berhanu were from the opposition CUD during the 2005 elections. After they left the country, in May 2008, they teamed up and co-founded Ginbot 7, a political party-turned rebel group. But Ginbot 7 was quickly branded as a terrorist organization by Ethiopia’s ruling party EPRDF dominated parliament and charges of terrorism were brought against both Andargachew and Dr. Berhanu. In December 2009, both were sentenced to death in absentia.

However, Andargachew Tsige was kidnapped in Sene’a airport, Yemen, while on transit and was renditioned to Ethiopia on June 23/2014. On July 09, Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and the Federal Police Joint Counter-terrorism Taskforce have admitted to holding him.  Ethiopia maintained he was arrested while on a mission en route to its arch rival Eritrea.

The UK has been trying to secure Andargachew’s release since then, summoning Demeke Atnafu, then Chargé d’Affaires of the Ethiopian Embassy in the UK, as early as August 2014. Several other diplomatic attempts have also been made since then; but to no avail as of yet.

Greg Dorey, then British Ambassador to Ethiopia told Addis Standard that he has “seen him six times in a period of about 18 months,” and that the embassy “have been given consular access.”  But Ambassador Dorey said there was “quite a lot I can’t say to you in terms of the details we talk to the family.” He added “If the family chooses to release the information we pass to them that is really up to them but we don’t make the decision to talk about what his health condition, whatever it might be, in public. And we do need his specific permission to do that. There is a limit to what I can frankly say on this subject.”

No official statement was given by authorities in Ethiopia about both the well-being and whereabouts of Andargachew. Ethiopia also claimed he was not kidnapped but was detained by “Yemeni authorities following intelligence tip provided by Ethiopian intelligence”. And fears of Andargachew being kept incommunicado linger.  He was last seen by the public when a controversial footage of him was aired on the state television on Sunday January 04/2015. The footage showed him denounce media reports about his ill-treatment while under custody. But many believe the footage was a forced confession.

In a rather unusual manner, Ethiopia’s then Foreign Minister Tedros Adnahom, was quoted by a pro government media, Ethiopia First, as saying Andargachew was not only being treated fairly, but was taken to an in country tour to visit the Addis-Abeba-Adama expressway and the city of Addis Abeba, up on his request. He was also provided access to a satellite television to watch football matches and a personal laptop, which the foreign minister claimed Andargachew was using to write a book. That was in May 2015 and there has not been any official or unofficial information about him since then. Although many have expected him to be among thousands of political prisoners who are being released from Ethiopian prisons since March this year, he remained behind bars and in unknown location.

Andargachew Tsige with his wife Yemserach Hailemariam (Yemi) and his three children

Andargachew is married to a British citizen Yemserach Hailemariam (Yemi), who is relentlessly campaigning for his release from the families’ residence in the UK.  He is also a father of three, who are now growing in his absence.

Having lived through and played vital roles in Ethiopian opposition politics, including during the military Derg’s era of the “Red Terror” when he was active member of the persecuted Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), Andargachew still commands a vast public support among Ethiopians. He first left Ethiopia for the UK, where he received his citizenship, shortly after losing his brother Amha Tsige to the Derg’s “Red Terror” campaign in mid ’70s. He returned to Ethiopia in 1991 hoping to find a political space when the current regime came to power, only to end up in its jail. AS   


 

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