Bashir Ahmed Makhtal (Somali: Bashiir Axmed Makhtal), (بشير أحمد مختال) (born 1977) is a Canadian citizen held in an Ethiopian prison, where he is accused of terrorism and faces the death penalty.
It is alleged that he is being held against international law, but he has been frequently visited by Canadian embassy officials in Ethiopia and received lawyer support as he appeared in court. The Canadian government's initial inaction on demanding his repatriation has galvanized some parts of the Somali community across Canada, and attracted the attention of Amnesty International. But some people inside Bashir Makhtal's own ethnic Somali community[who?]say that he was an active member of the ONLF, which Ethiopia says is an illegal and terrorist group.
Bashir was born in Ethiopia. His grandfather founded the rebel group Ogaden National Liberation Front, which Ethiopia labels a terrorist organization like al Qaida. Makhtal fled war-torn Somalia in 1972. In 1991, he immigrated to Canada and studied Computer Science at the DeVry Institute of Technology while living in Riverdale, Toronto. He then traveled to Texas to complete his bachelor's degree. In 1994 he was granted Canadian citizenship, and was employed as a computer programmer by the Bank of Montreal and CIBC.
In 2002, Makhtal began traveling, to the United Arab Emirates, and then across the Horn of Africa, selling clothing to support himself as he went across Djibouti, Kenya, Eritrea and finally found himself back in Somalia.
When Ethiopia militarily intervened in Somalia in 2006 to help the Transitional government against radical Islamist insurgents, Canadian Foreign Affairs advised Canadians in the country to flee the impending war. Makhtal flew to neighbouring Kenya, but was arrested during the flight and, although granted access to attorney Haron Ndubi during three weeks of detention in Nairobi, was allegedly illegally renditioned to the Ethiopian-backed government in Somalia, and from there directly to Ethiopia.
While in prison, it is believed that Makhtal has faced torture from interrogators seeking a confession of involvement with terrorism. But there has been no evidence of him being tortured and other terrorism suspects imprisoned by Kenya and sent to Ethiopia showed no sign of being tortured. In June 2007 he was able to have a letter delivered to his family.
Based on the prior membership of his grandfather, he is accused of belonging to the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a secessionist group which Ethiopia considers a terrorist organization while Canada has not given the group an identification. His wife, Aziza Osman, has campaigned for the release of both Makhtal and her uncle who faced a similar renditioning. Although he is represented by Canadian lawyer Lorne Waldman, Ethiopia has refused contact with Makhtal since Makhtal has a lawyer in Ethiopia and is facing court.
The ruling Conservative Party has been criticised by the NDP and the Liberal party for continuing their policy of not intervening to aid non-white Canadians imprisoned in foreign countries. In February 2009, the Conservative party agreed to seek Makhtal's release. But the Canadian government has already intervened and Canadian officials were granted access to Makhtal.
ONLF and al Shabaab
In addition to helping the ONLF, the Ethiopian court charged Makhtal of collaborating with the Somali terrorist group al Shabab. The United States has labeled al Shabab as a terrorist organization, due to its links with al Qaida as well as its international dimensions. Many Somalis in the Diaspora, including in Australia, United States, Canada and Europe, are said to finance the group while many also joining the jihad against the Somalia government. Recently, some Somalis from Australia were denied entry while an American Somali have committed suicide attack in Somalia. Some of the Somali ONLF and al Shabab supporters have organizing fund raising events in the Diaspora, including in Europe and Dubai.
Double Standards on "terrorism"
Ethiopia has been recently accused of human rights abuses. But Ethiopians say there is a double standard on terrorism since the ONLF group has killed many Ethiopians and the West has not condemned the killings. Bashir is a family member of the founder of the Ogaden National Liberation Front and Ethiopia has accused him of financing and recruiting for the ONLF. Ethiopia points to another case of Western-based Somali suicide bomber Shirwa Ahmed, who lived in Minnesota before going back to Somalia and taking part in bombings in Hargeisa and Bosaso. Similarly, Australia in August charged several Somalis with terrorism offences.
Ethiopia has been fighting alongside Western government against terrorists, including al Qaeda. But many Ethiopians says terrorists targeting Africans are not being condemned by the West. The ONLF has been accused of killing hundreds of civilians, but the biggest single act has been the killing of 74 Ethiopians and Chinese workers in the Abole oil field raid of April 2007.
The Ethiopian court said it found Makhtal guilty of being a member of the ONLF militants and working with the Eritrean government to organize the financing, recruiting and training tasks for the ONLF. According to the Canadian media Globe and Mail, Makhtal's family said he made "an extended business trip" to several countries, including Dubai and Eritrea. However, there are no Somali businesses in Eritrea and a Somali community does not exist in the Eritrean state, except some Somalis of the Ogaden sub-clan training for the ONLF rebel group.
It is not the first time Eritrea was accused of supporting militants fighting against Ethiopia and other neighbors. The Bush administration, the Obama administration, the African Union (AU) as well as the United Nations (UN) have accused Eritrea of financing, arming and training anti-government militants in the horn of Africa.
Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Parliament of Canada, traveled to Ethiopia to inquire about Maktal's situation. He was assured in March 2008 that Maktal is alive and well.
In August 2009, a lawyer for a Canadian man sentenced to life in prison in Ethiopia said he is pushing forward with a lawsuit aimed at forcing Canada to halt development aid to Ethiopia unless Makhtal is released.
In December 2009, the Ethiopian Supreme Court's rejected the appeal of Bashir, and his relatives in Canada called again for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to directly intervene in the case, to help Makhtal return to Canada.
- Thomas Walkom (June 14, 2007). "Double standard for Canadians in trouble abroad". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 2012-12-27.
But if a Canadian is unlucky enough to run into trouble with a country that Ottawa does not wish to offend, it is a different story. In those cases, the government says little and does less. If the Canadian is unpopular or lacks media-savvy supporters, the government pays even less attention.
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