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Islington man Andy Tsege set to be released from Ethiopian prison today – after 4 years in illegal captivity

PUBLISHED: 12:36 29 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:09 29 May 2018

Andy Tsege

Andy Tsege

Archant

Islington man Andy Tsege is set to be released from Ethiopian prison today – after four years in illegal captivity.

Andy Tsege's family protesting in Whitehall last year. From left: daughter Menabe, 10, partner Yemi Hailemariam, son Yilak, 10, and daughter Helawit, 17. Picture: Polly HancockAndy Tsege's family protesting in Whitehall last year. From left: daughter Menabe, 10, partner Yemi Hailemariam, son Yilak, 10, and daughter Helawit, 17. Picture: Polly Hancock

His partner, Yemi Hailemariam, of St John Street, told the Gazette this afternoon: “Oh my god, I was very, very excited when I heard the news. It’s been a very, very long journey.

“But until I get that call, until I hear his voice, it’s not completely real.”

Andy was a democratic and human rights activist in his native Ethiopia until he fled to the UK as a political refugee in 1979. He had lived here ever since, becoming a citizen.

At a trial in 2009, a death sentence was passed in his absence. And in June 2014, while waiting to catch a flight to Eritrea, Andy was abducted at an airport in Yemen and unlawfully handed over to Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, was installed last month and has since ordered the release of several thousand prisoners, including high-profile politicians and journalists.

Andy is among them, with his pardon announced on Saturday.

And Fitsum Arega, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, tweeted this morning: “Finding a path towards an enduring peace is a worthy objective that will be pursued in the spirit of our Constitution. As part of this effort, the gov’t will free today about 500 inmates including Andargachew Tsegie from Kality.”

The details of his release are currently being clarified, and Yemi still hasn’t spoken to her partner, who she met through a friend in Archway.

She added: “These four years have been torturous. Actually, that’s not appropriate as he has been going through real torture. It’s been frustrating, challenging, difficult. I tried very hard but it often felt like nothing was happening.

“But the end is now in sight and it feels unbelievable.”

Bring Andy Home! Andy Tsege's family and MPs including Emily Thornberry protesting in Whitehall last year. Picture: Polly HancockBring Andy Home! Andy Tsege's family and MPs including Emily Thornberry protesting in Whitehall last year. Picture: Polly Hancock

Since Andy was detained, Yemi tirelessly lobbied the government to do more to secure his release.

On Andy’s 62nd birthday in February last year, she took the campaign to the steps of 10, Downing Street, where she handed a petition with nearly 30,000 signatures demanding his freedom.

And during last year’s general election, she even stood as an independent candidate in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency to raise awareness of the case and her perceived inaction in getting him home. Her aim was a face-to-face meeting with Ms May, which happened on election night. Not much was achieved, though, as the Prime Minister was apparently “not with it” amid the Conservatives’ horror show at the polls.

Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry stood beside Yemi on many occasions during her campaign.

The shadow foreign secretary told the Gazette from Cape Town this afternoon: “I’m absolutely delighted. I actually can’t describe how pleased I am.

Emily Thornberry campaigning with Andy Tsege's partner Yemi Hailemariam in Whitehall last year. Picture: Polly HancockEmily Thornberry campaigning with Andy Tsege's partner Yemi Hailemariam in Whitehall last year. Picture: Polly Hancock

“I see it through the eyes of Yemi. She is such an extraordinary woman who has been campaigning all over the world, picking up on any encouragement or sources. Whether it was the United Nations or Parliament, she went and did it.

“It must have been really hard for her, not only trying to get her husband released, but in the meantime looking after their children, who were clearly bereft. They are wonderful and Yemi had tremendous support from the people of Islington.”

The MP of 13 years added: “I’m really pleased the Ethiopian government has pardoned him, but that doesn’t take away from the fact he was kidnapped. I’m happy the government has seen sense.”

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “Foreign Office staff are assisting a British man following the announcement of a formal government pardon in Ethiopia, and are in close contact with his family.”

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