British campaigner Andy Tsege released from prison after four years on death row in Ethiopia

A Briton who spent four years on death row in Ethiopia walked out of prison on Tuesday, freed by the regime that once labelled him a “terrorist”.

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Andargachew Tsege, who fled to Britain in 1974, was greeted by hundreds of supporters who gathered outside his family’s home in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to celebrate the release of one of the government’s most outspoken critics.

Such scenes in one of Africa’s most repressive regimes would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.

Mr Andargachew, perhaps unable to grasp the scale of Ethiopia’s rapid political thaw, seemed stunned by the reception. “I did not expect this much turn out,” he said, suggesting he did not deserve  it since “four years in prison is not that much of a sacrifice.”

Other dissidents had indeed been incarcerated for longer, though few were captured in such dramatic circumstances. While waiting to catch a connecting flight to Eritrea in 2014, Mr Andargachew was seized by armed men in a transit lounge at an airport in Yemen.

He was immediately bundled onto a flight to Addis Ababa, with Ethiopia claiming it had merely extradited one of their most wanted men.

Britain protested, but Ethiopia stood firm: as one of the leaders of Ginbot 7, a group of Ethiopian exiles who had based themselves in neighbouring Eritrea, Mr Andargachew was a “traitor” and “coup plotter”.

In the past year, however, Ethiopia’s ruling coalition has been forced to yield to domestic pressure after an ethnic and political crisis threatened to tear apart the old political order.

In the past three months, the Ethiopian government has pardoned more than 10,000 political prisoners. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, hailed Mr Andargachew’s release and the broader political significance it portended.

“Recent moves by the Ethiopian Government send a positive signal that they remain serious about following through with promised reforms to increase political space,” Mr Johnson said.

The Foreign Secretary also insisted that Mr Andargachew’s case had been “a priority” for his department, a claim that will be questioned by those who campaigned for the dissident’s release, particularly his UK-based partner, Yemisrach Hailemariam.

Mr Johnson was criticised for not raising Mr Andargachew’s plight publicly — although he said he did in private — when he visited Addis Ababa last year, a trip in which the Foreign Secretary largely skirted over Ethiopia’s human rights record.

Mrs Yemisrach extended thanks to Jeremy Corbyn, who is Mr Andargachew’s MP, and to Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, for their efforts to win his freedom. But she pointedly excluded Mr Johnson.

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