Canadian convicted in Ethiopia on terror charges

OTTAWA - The lawyer for a Canadian convicted in Ethiopia is calling on the prime minister to help save Bashir Makhtal from possible execution.

OTTAWA - The lawyer for a Canadian convicted in Ethiopia is calling on the prime minister to help save Bashir Makhtal from possible execution.

The former Toronto man is to be sentenced next week after being found guilty Monday in Addis Ababa on terrorism-related charges.

"We're not surprised, but very disappointed," said Lorne Waldman, Makhtal's Canadian lawyer.

"The Ethiopian judicial system is completely lacking in independence."

Makhtal was convicted of three offences relating to allegations he was a member of the Ogaden National Liberation Front. He denies the accusations.

Waldman called the Ethiopian proceedings a "kangaroo court" that ignored important evidence from Makhtal, who has been locked up for more than two years.

"Some of the allegations suggested that he was involved in military activity at a time when he was not even in the region."

Makhtal, born in Ethiopia in 1969, settled in Canada as a refugee and later moved to Kenya, opening a used-clothing business. He was working in Somalia when Ethiopian troops invaded in late 2006.

Makhtal fled back to Kenya, but was detained along with several others at the Kenya-Somalia border.

New York-based organization Human Rights Watch says Makhtal was among at least 34 people deported to Somalia from Kenya on Jan. 20, 2007, aboard an African Express Airways flight to Mogadishu. He was then shipped to Ethiopia.

Unconfirmed reports have suggested Makhtal was swept up in a rendition-style detention assisted by western intelligence.

Waldman believes Makhtal's current troubles stem from the fact his grandfather was a founding member of the liberation front.

"It's obvious that the procedure is a complete travesty and a mockery of justice," Waldman said. "It's a judicial system that doesn't provide any guarantee of due process."

No one at the Ethiopian Embassy in Ottawa was available to comment Monday.

Canadian officials attended the court session, and Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Emma Welford said consular staff in Ethiopia and Canada would continue to provide support and assistance to Makhtal.

Transport Minister John Baird, who has many Somali-Canadians in his Ottawa riding, said in February that he had seen no proof Makhtal is a criminal or a security risk.

Baird expressed disappointment with the verdict Monday.

"It is important not to speculate on the outcome, but I remain personally committed to doing all I can for Bashir once he is sentenced next Monday." Baird said in a statement. "I will continue to be actively involved in the case."

Makhtal can appeal to the Ethiopian Supreme Court.

Waldman said Monday that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon must intervene because Makhtal could be facing the death penalty.

"So obviously it's urgent that the Canadian government get immediately involved in demanding that he be repatriated."

Waldman noted Canada is a generous aid donor to Ethiopia, saying the government should "make it clear to Ethiopians that if they mistreat a Canadian citizen there will be serious consequences."

The Prime Minister's Office had no immediate comment.

 
 
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