By Hal Roberts, National Bureau
OTTAWA – Amnesty International wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pressure Ethiopia to release a Canadian serving a life sentence there on allegations he helped a banned political organization.
Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian citizen, was born in Ethiopia.
He was working as information technologist with CIBC when, in 2007, he returned to Ethiopia keen to expand a small business, Amnesty International said.
Instead, he was arrested and charged with smuggling arms for the Ogaden National Liberation Front. The ONLF, established in 1984, is a separatist rebel group fighting to make the region of Ogaden in eastern Ethiopia an independent state. Makhtal’s grandfather was a member of the ONLF but Amnesty International said Bashir Makhtal was not.
Amnesty International’s Alex Neve said Makhtal did not receive a fair trial and has been badly beaten.
“He has been held in isolation, also kicked, punched and beaten head to toe with a stick,” Neve told reporters on Wednesday.
Neve claims Makhtal has also been denied access to a lawyer, family contacts or contact with Canadian consular officials.
Makhtal’s cousin, Said Makhtal, is pleading for his release.
“Prime minister, imagine the pain you would feel if you learned that one of your loved ones had been through this kind of nightmare,” Makhtal said Wednesday. “That is the pain that we are feeling every single day and every single minute and every single night.”
Erica Meekes, a spokesman for Minister of State (Consular Affairs) Lynne Yelich, said the Canadian government continues to advocate on behalf of Makhtal.
“We have actively engaged the Government of Ethiopia to press for due process and ensure his well-being,” Meekes said in a statement Wednesday.
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