Bashir Makhtal sentenced to life in prison in Ethiopia


Canadian sentenced to life in prison in Ethiopia

Lawyers for Bashir Makhtal will launch an appeal within two weeks, though human rights groups question his chance at a fair hearing

David McDougall

Globe and Mail Update
Last updated on Monday, Aug. 03, 2009 07:26PM EDT

Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian citizen who has been imprisoned in Ethiopia for two and a half years, was handed a life sentence Monday by the High Court in Addis Ababa after being convicted on three terrorism related charges.

Though the prosecution had been seeking a death penalty for Mr. Makhtal, a 40-year-old former Toronto resident who emigrated to Canada in 1991, his lawyer in Ethiopia said they had been asking for a light prison term.

“He’s very unhappy,” said the lawyer, Gebramlak Gebregiorgis Tekle. “When a person hears he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison, definitely he would be unhappy.”

Mr. Tekle said they planned to launch an appeal with the Federal Supreme Court within two weeks. But human rights groups and legal experts have repeatedly questioned the likelihood of Mr. Makhtal receiving a fair trial in Ethiopia.

“Although it’s true there is an appeal process,” said Toronto lawyer Lorne Waldman, who has been retained by Mr. Makhtal’s family to represent his case in Canada, “we have no expectation that the appeal decision will be any different than the trial decision, because as we know the judiciary is not independent in Ethiopia.”

“Whatever happens to Bashir Makhtal will be a political decision and not a legal decision.”

Mr. Makhtal was arrested by Kenyan authorities in December, 2006 as he attempted to cross the border from Somalia on a Canadian passport to escape fighting between Islamist militia and the Ethiopian army.

According to friends, family and Mr. Makhtal’s own court testimony, he was in Mogadishu for business, importing used clothing from Dubai for resale in East Africa.

Mr. Makhtal was never charged in Kenya. Instead, three weeks after his arrest, he was forcibly deported along with scores of other prisoners to Mogadishu and ultimately Ethiopia, where he was held for nearly two years incommunicado and in solitary confinement. For most of that time he was denied consular access.

Friends and family say Mr. Makhtal was detained because his grandfather was one of the founding members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, an ethnic Somalia separatist movement which Ethiopian considers a terrorist organization, though Mr. Makhtal denies having any involvement with the organization.

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