Guest post: "My partner is on death row in Ethiopia - our children just want him home"
Since Yemi Hailemariam’s partner Andy was kidnapped in 2014, she has been campaigning alongside her children for his freedom - but the British government is yet to call for his release
Posted on: Thu 22-Sep-16 15:39:08
(62 comments )
Two years ago, my family's life in London changed completely. My partner, Andargachew 'Andy' Tsege, went missing just before our summer holiday. How was I supposed to tell our three children what had happened? Even telling other parents was hard enough.
When I first found out he had disappeared, I didn't mention it to anyone and tried to carry on as normal. I even went to the school fete, which I'd helped to organise as a member of the Parents' Association. I vividly remember having to hide in the toilet every time I thought about him so I didn't cry in public.
I knew I couldn't avoid telling the children for long, but I just didn't know how to tell them such terrible news about their father. Andy is a British citizen, who was born in Ethiopia. His vocal criticisms of the government of this repressive East African country forced him to flee to London, where he became a UK citizen, and built a life and family. We always thought he would be safe here.
Our children knew about the importance of their father's work, and how often he travelled abroad to meetings and conferences. He was never away for long, apart from the time when he didn't come back. To begin with, I thought something had gone wrong when he was changing flights at an airport in the Middle East. Eventually, the Foreign Office called me and said "there is a strong indication Andargachew has been transferred to Ethiopia". I screamed and handed the phone to his brother. I was on the floor wailing – to me, this meant he was dead.
It turned out that Ethiopian agents had snatched him from the plane and bundled him into Ethiopia, the one place he was trying to avoid. There was no extradition process, it was completely illegal. I didn't know how to tell the children for weeks afterwards. They kept asking me why I was crying all the time, talking to myself or going to 'meetings' with their uncle.
I thought the Foreign Office would do more to help him, but they haven't even called for his release. We aren't allowed to visit him, but he's been paraded on national TV in so-called 'confession' videos.
Ethiopia is ruled by a ruthless totalitarian government which 'won' 100% of seats at the last election. Andy has been one of its most vocal critics. He wrote a book against the government and since then he has been persona non grata.
Recent protests by Ethiopian athletes at the Rio Olympics have highlighted to the world how repressive the government is. Journalists and opposition activists have been sentenced to death in sham trials, even after they left the country.
Ethiopia issued three judgements against Andy when he was living in London. Life imprisonment in 2007; death penalty in 2009 and another life sentence in 2012. The US embassy noted that the capital trial was politically motivated and lacked basic international standards.
When I found out that Andy had been snatched by the Ethiopian government, I contacted Reprieve, a charity that helps people on death row. Their director helped me find a way to tell my children what was going on. He said they have to see the hope in fighting for their dad's future. That's how my children have dealt with the situation ever since. I'm so proud of how they have rallied around their father. Our nine-year-old daughter, Menabe, wrote letters to the Queen and the Prime Minister. Our eldest daughter, Helawit, wrote a play with her friends about what happened to her dad, for which she won Liberty Human Rights Award. With the help of their school friends, our children's various petitions have been shared and signed by over 129,000 supporters. The most heartbreaking was the birthday video they made for their dad's 61st birthday.
I spend all my spare time campaigning for Andy's freedom. For the first year of his unlawful detention, he was held in solitary confinement in a secret prison. Then he was moved to a jail near the capital, dubbed Ethiopia's 'gulag'. We aren't allowed to visit him, but he's been paraded on national TV in so-called 'confession' videos. It was horrible to see Andy in that state. He was not the confident, self-assured and smiling Andy I knew and loved. He was gaunt, kept looking away from the camera; he was hesitant and was barely audible.
I thought the Foreign Office would do more to help him, but they haven't even called for his release. Nothing changed with Boris Johnson's appointment. My youngest daughter's frustration was obvious to everyone when she said tearfully on the ITV breakfast show, "If someone is a British citizen, they deserve the protection of the UK government, and they're not doing that for my father.” It's time the government listened to a nine-year-old's plea to be reunited with her father.
Please click here to sign our petition.
By Yemi Hailemariam
This is heartbreaking. Your poor family. I'm so, so sorry. I will sign and share.
I have signed. I wish you well.
Signed and shared. Wishing you and your family all the best stay strong.
I'm so sorry you, Andy and your family are going through this nightmare. I have signed and shared on Facebook
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
Done, I wish your family all the best
Signed and shared.
Thinking of you and your family. So heartbreaking.
I have signed so sorry op bumping for you
Signed and shared on Facebook.
My heart goes out to you and your children.
This is a horrendous story. My heart goes out to you and your girls.
You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.
Signed and keeping you and your family in my thoughts 💕
Prayers that Andy will be home
To you all soon.
Jesus, what a travesty. I've signed and shared. I'm so sorry you're all going through this, and pray he's home with you all soon
My heart goes out to you all, I can't imagine what you are going through.
signed and shared.
Wow, it's very worrying that this isn't all over the news.
Your children sound wonderful.
I wish you the very best luck.
Wow. I'm shocked that the foreign office aren't doing anything to assist him. Signed.
Sorry that you are all going through this.
What a travesty. I am so sorry, this is horrendous.
This is just awful. I can't even imagine what you must be going through.