Ethiopian court upholds life sentence for Canadian

Canwest News

An Ethiopian court upheld the life sentence Friday of a Canadian man imprisoned on terrorism charges and his family now fears he will die behind bars.

The Federal Supreme Court of Ethiopia upheld the conviction and life sentence for Bashir Makhtal, an ethnic Somali in his 40s, who was charged with being a senior member of a separatist group, inciting rebellion and supporting Islamic militants in Somalia.

Makhtal’s family in Canada is now calling on the federal government to intervene and free him because they fear he will be tortured to death in Ethiopia.

“We will never see him again . . . Bashir will rot in there . . . the next thing you will hear is that he is dead,” said Said Maktal, Bashir Makhtal’s cousin. “If my country abandons my cousin, a Canadian citizen, who else is going to help?

In an email to Said Maktal Friday, Bashir Makhtal’s Ethiopian lawyer wrote there were still two faint hope options available, including applying for a pardon or to a court that reviews fundamental errors of law.

“Keep your hope alive. There are still ways, no matter how bumpy,” wrote lawyer Gebreamlak Gebregiorgis Tekle.

Said Maktal said a news conference was planned for next week in Ottawa to publicly call on the federal government to help.

Family members say the government has pledged to work on the case and Transport Minister John Baird has personally met with Said Maktal.

Said Maktal said his cousin was a casualty of persecution by the Ethiopian government against the family. He said the government had targeted them because a family patriarch founded the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a group committed to gaining independence from Ethiopia.

Bashir Makhtal, who was born in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region and lived in Toronto, was arrested by Kenyan authorities at the Somalia-Kenya border in December 2006, along with about 100 foreigners on suspicions of supporting Islamic militants in Somalia. He was deported to Ethiopia in January 2007 and sentenced to life in August.

Family members fear if he is not freed, Bashir Makhtal faces a similar fate to his brother, Hassan Ahmed Makhtal, who died last month shortly after he was released from prison where he was held for two years without charge, according to Said Maktal.

Said Maktal said a 29-year-old female relative in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa cared for Hassan Makhtal before he died.

The woman spoke to Canwest News Service but wanted anonymity because she also fears for her life.

She said when Hassan Makhtal was released from jail he appeared badly beaten

“They tortured him, they stomped on him . . . there was a big bruise on his head and it was from being hit with the butt of a gun,” the woman said, through an interpreter during a telephone interview from her Addis Ababa home.

“He was in pain ever since he came out . . . he could not fold his legs without feeling pain, there were bruises all over his skin, there were green and blue bruises,” she said.