Watching the Ethiopian government shoot dead dozens of protesters last weekend made me sick with worry about my partner, who faces execution there for his political views. Andargachew Tsege, we call him Andy, is a British citizen and father of three. He is no stranger to protests in Ethiopia – he was a student activist in the 1970s, demonstrating against the then-government and eventually having to flee to London for fear of persecution. He would go on to become a key figure in Ethiopia’s pro-democracy movement.
In 2005, following years in exile, Andy braved a trip back to Ethiopia to launch his book, which criticised government corruption and abuse. He was among the thousands who were arrested in a post-election crackdown by the ruling party, the EPRDF – the group that still rules Ethiopia with an iron fist. Andy was badly beaten in jail, but was thankfully released a month later.
Back in Britain, Andy became general secretary of an opposition coalition and one of Ethiopia’s top pro-democracy activists. He testified to the US Congress about the dire state of human rights in Ethiopia under the EPRDF, and was a regular commentator on Ethiopian affairs for the BBC.
In 2009, Ethiopian security forces again moved to crush dissent, arresting dozens of people who had spoken out against the government. Andy was charged in absentia and sentenced to death, in a trial that observing US diplomats described as “lacking in basic elements of due process”. Ethiopia’s then prime minister, Meles Zenawi, who oversaw my partner’s death sentence, was an old university friend Andy had once hosted in London.
‘Andy Tsege was charged in absentia and sentenced to death, in a trial that observing US diplomats described as ‘lacking in basic elements of due process’.’ Photograph: Yemi Hailemariam