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Canada: IAR Bashir Makhtal - Nov2011

    Thursday, November 8, 2012 - 00:00

    Bashir Makhtal: Canadian citizen faces life in prison after unfair trial in Ethiopia


    Please add your name to Amnesty's petition calling on Prime Minister Stephan Harper  to urgently intervene in the case of Bashir Makthal.

    Bashir's Story

    Canadian citizen Bashir Makhtal sits in a prison cell in Ethiopia hoping that someday he will be able to go home. As far as the Ethiopian government is concerned, he will spend the rest of his life there. It's up to the Canadian government to pursue justice in this case, and reunite Bashir with his wife and family.

    But this story begins in nearby Somalia -- a place of seemingly endless conflict and, in mid-2011, once again in the midst of a desperate famine. Yet amid the instability, for many people life goes on. Bashir Makhtal was in Somalia on business in late 2006 when it became the latest battleground in the "war on terror". Together with many others, he fled the fighting and headed for the Kenyan border. Instead of safe refuge, however, they found themselves detained for weeks and illegally transferred to Ethiopia.

    While most were later released, Bashir Makhtal was held in secret detention, with no access to lawyers, his family or Canadian consular officials. Eventually he was accused of providing support to an armed group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). He was sentenced to life imprisonment after a grossly unfair trial in 2009. In the absence of credible evidence, the basis for the charges seemed to be the role his grandfather played in the founding of the ONLF decades ago.

    Other members of Bashir's family have also been targeted as part of a long standing pattern of human rights violations against the Ogadeni ethnic group. His brother became seriously ill in detention and died shortly after his release. His sister fled Ethiopia out of concern for her safety.

    Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Ethiopian authorities to bring Bashir Makhtal to trial in proceedings that meet internationally-recognized fair trial standards or to release him immediately and unconditionally. With no prospect for fair legal proceedings, the only remedy after years of injustice in this case is to release Bashir Makhtal and allow him to return to Canada.

    Unlike some of the other security-related cases of Canadians detained abroad, several Canadian officials and cabinet Ministers have advocated for Bashir Makhtal's human rights in meetings with officials in both Canada and Ethiopia. However, these efforts have yet to bring any results for Bashir Makhtal. At times it has appeared as if Bashir's case has been forgotten. Prime Minister Harper himself has yet to intervene on his behalf.

    Caught up in Conflict

    In December 2006, conflict broke out in Somalia between the militias of the Council of Somali Islamic Courts (COSIC) and Ethiopian troops supporting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. After several days of fighting in Mogadishu, which COSIC had taken over from an alliance of warlords in June 2006, the COSIC militias were defeated.

    In January 2007, Ethiopian troops and the TFG entered Mogadishu and US and Ethiopian forces carried out several air strikes in south-western Somalia. Ethiopian forces continued their ground operations in the region well into March 2007, with the stated purpose of "rooting out" any remnants of COSIC and possible al-Qaida fighters.

    Hundreds of civilians were killed and about 340,000 people fled from Mogadishu.

    On January 3, 2007, the Kenyan government closed the border with Somalia, citing "security concerns". It deployed troops and a counter-terrorism unit to reinforce the regular border police and stop anyone crossing the border.

    Bashir Makthal was one of some 140 people arrested between 30 December 2006 and February 2007 as they tried to enter Kenya from Somalia. This group included nationals of at least 17 countries: Canada, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Oman, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Sweden, Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, USA, UK and Yemen.

    Early intervention is often vital in preventing serious human rights violations and several governments quickly took action on behalf of their citizens. Four British nationals were sent back to the UK from Baidoa, Somalia on February 13, 2006, and were soon released without charge by the UK authorities.

    Canadians Detained Abroad

    Over the past decade a growing number of Canadian citizens and permanent residents have experienced serious human rights violations in other countries, while imprisoned by governments or held by armed groups. Some of those cases -- such as Maher Arar and Omar Khadr -- have gained a high public profile. Others have received very little political or media attention. The Canadian government has, in some cases, refused to intervene or done so minimally. In other cases, Canada's intervention has simply been rebuffed by the foreign government.

    In addition to the case of Bashir Makthal in Ethiopia, Amnesty International is currently concerned about the plight of Canadian citizens and permanent residents imprisoned in China, Saudi Arabia, Guantánamo Bay, Iran, Egypt and on death row in the state of Montana.