By Cahal Milmo
The partner of a British father-of-three abducted and detained for more than 1,000 days in his native Ethiopia is to stand against Theresa May in the general election in her seat to raise awareness of his plight.
Yemi Hailemariam accused Mrs May of ignoring the case of her partner, Andy Tsege, 62, a prominent dissident who was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009 by Ethiopian authorities, who then spirited him into custody three years ago after he was seized at an airport in Yemen.
“I want to make a point by standing. I would like to be able to meet Mrs May face-to-face to express our frustration and create some awareness of what is happening to Andy.” Yemi Hailemariam, partner of abducted Briton Andy Tsege
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last month reiterated the Government’s long-standing refusal to call for Mr Tsege’s release, saying it would be wrong to interfere in another country’s legal system. The Ethiopian authorities claim that the Briton, who sought political asylum in Britain in 1979 and was later granted UK citizenship, is a member of a terrorist group but his family say his only crime is to be an outspoken critic of the east African country’s authoritarian government.
Ms Hailemariam told i she was standing against Mrs May in her Berkshire constituency of Maidenhead to challenge the Prime Minister over what she said is Britain’s failure to do more to secure Mr Tsege’s freedom.
‘Bring him home’
The mother-of-three said: “Mrs May has been prime minister for nearly a year and yet she has not engaged with this case at all. She actually met the Ethiopian prime minister last week and as far as we know did not mention Andy’s situation.
“I want to make a point by standing. Otherwise things become more and more outrageous. I would like to be able to meet Mrs May face-to-face to express our frustration and create some awareness of what is happening to Andy. He is a British national and yet she applies no pressure to the Foreign Office to act as it should – which is to bring him home.”
With the help of supporters, Ms Hailemariam, from Islington, north London, gathered the ten signatures of constituents in Maidenhead and raised the £500 deposit needed to stand in the seat as an independent candidate.
In an open letter last month, Mr Johnson said he and British diplomats were “lobbying strongly and consistently” to ensure that the death sentence imposed on Mr Tsege was not carried out and that the Briton had recently been granted access to a lawyer following UK pressure.
But Mr Johnson said: “I continue to judge that calling for [Mr Tsege’s] release would not be helpful at this stage. It could in fact damage the progress we have made.” Ms Hailemariam said she was aiming to take up a commitment from the Ethiopian prime minister given to Mr Johnson that she and the couple’s children – twins aged 10 and a daughter aged 17 – would be allowed to visit Mr Tsege in prison.
One phone call
Apart from one phone call shortly after his abduction and arrest as he waited to board a flight to Eritrea, the family have had no direct contact with Mr Tsege amid fears that he could be subjected to torture. Ms Hailemariam said: “I’m not sure if we can believe any assurances from the Ethiopians of safe conduct but what choice do we have? It is so important that we see Andy and give him the message that we and others are fighting for him.”