Jailed Canadian in Ethiopia gets day in court at last

Human-rights groups doubtful former Torontonian, jailed for more than two years without charges, will receive fair trail


Special to Globe and Mail Update

March 18, 2009 at 9:37 PM EDT

NAIROBI — A Canadian who's been imprisoned in Ethiopia for more than two years without charges or access to a lawyer is scheduled Thursday to finally hear the evidence against him.

The prosecution has promised to produce six witnesses, the first evidence to be presented since Bashir Makhtal was detained in early 2007, but “there's just no way that Bashir could possibly get a fair trial in Ethiopia,” says Lorne Waldman, his Canadian lawyer, who still acknowledges it is a step in the right direction.

“You have to look at this in perspective,” said Mr. Waldman, a Toronto-based human-rights lawyer hired by Makhtal's family to represent his case in Canada. “There is, in fact, some progress from the point of view of other people who languish in Ethiopia for years and may never be brought to trial.”

Mr. Makhtal has been accused of involvement in the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a separatist group that Ethiopia considered a terrorist organization. His grandfather was one of the founding members of the ONLF, though there has never been any evidence made public that links Mr. Makhtal to the group. If convicted, he could face a sentence ranging from 10 years imprisonment to death.

During his detention, Mr. Makhtal was held in isolation and incommunicado. He was denied consular access. One former detainee quoted in a 2008 Human Rights Watch report recalls seeing Mr. Makhtal: “He was limping. He had a deep cut in one of his legs. He looked weak. He looked so famished.”

It took more than a year for Ethiopia to even admit it was holding him, but after pressure from Canadian Transport Minister John Baird and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the case was transferred from military to civilian court and lawyers and consular staff were allowed access.

“We have seen some positive steps from the Ethiopian authorities recently,” Mr. Baird said.

Mr. Makhtal, now in his 40s, is a former Toronto resident, born in Ethiopia. He was raised in Somalia and moved to Canada in 1991, where he worked as a computer programmer. He became a Canadian citizen in 1994. In 2001 he moved to Dubai to start a business.

Mr. Makhtal was on what family say was a business trip to Mogadishu when the Ethiopian army invaded in December, 2006, ousting the ruling Islamic government. He was later arrested at a Kenyan-Somali border crossing as he attempted to leave the country carrying a Canadian passport.

In Nairobi, Mr. Makhtal was questioned but never charged. Instead, on Jan. 20, two days before a scheduled court hearing, he was sent via Mogadishu to Ethiopia, where along with 85 others, including several other Westerners, he disappeared.

“As soon as we learned where he was going, we were gravely concerned,” recalls Aziza Osman, Mr. Makhtal's Kenyan wife.

Her life ground to a halt. She had married Mr. Makhtal just months before his arrest and planned to move into a new home and start a family after his return from Somalia.

“There were two years with a lot of hardship,” she said, speaking softly in her mother's living room.

Mr. Makhtal's lawyer in Ethiopia, Gerebe Amiak Tekle, says that his client is optimistic about the court appearance. “He believes he will be home soon after the trial has ended.”

But family members, human- rights groups and Mr. Makhtal himself have expressed concerns about the possibility of him receiving fair trial in Ethiopia.

“I will be pleasantly surprised if this trial is anything but a sham,” said Leslie Lefkow, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.

For some, the question now is why hasn't Canada done more to free Mr. Makhtal. Of the handful of a Westerners that Kenya originally sent to Ethiopia, Mr. Makhtal is the only one still in detention.

“It's actually time for the Ethiopian government to be hearing very clearly from the Prime Minister himself,” said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

In the meantime, Ms. Osman feels comforted that “Canadian eyes are watching.”

Special to The Globe and Mail





Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre in the Globe and Mail


Ottawa Mens Centre.com, from Ottawa - Home of the corrupt Judge Allan Sheffield, Canada wrote: Spare a thought for victims of the Corrupt Dishonourable Justice Allan Sheffield of Ottawa who makes criminal convictions without a trial. He issues permanent restraining orders that are virtual deporation orders to Canadian Citizens. He also terminates a child's right to have a relationship with his or her father simply because the Dishonourable Corrupt Allan Sheffield wants to demonstrate "revenge" in the form of what the judiciary refer to as a "flagrant abuse of Judicial Power". A More accurate description is the criminal offense of "Obstruction of Justice" by a Judge, an officer of the court who is famous in the Eastern Region of Ontario for being "The Worst Judge". In strict confidence, just ask ANY experienced non feminist lawyer in the Ottawa area. Don't blame the Attorney General of Ontario, start looking at his Supervisor Justice who KNOWS that Allan Sheffield is out of control, a judge who will hear a motion for "summary judgement" when a series of other judges ordered trials, that is, the Supervisory Judge of the Eastern Region of Ontario uses the Dishonourable Corrupt Allan Sheffield as a kind of "hit man" of the judiciary to do their "dirty work" that is, exacting revenge for making public comments about the very worst child abusers in Ontario Called Family Court Judges who exact revenge by making orders that result in virtual life time jail sentences without ever having a trial, they simply order impossible to pay, child support orders based on large incomes for which no evidence is ever provided, the fathers are unable to pay and end up being repeatedly incarcerated without any right of variation, you see, The Corrupt Dishonourable Justice Allan Sheffield makes his orders impossible to vary or appeal by ordering "security for costs" and topping it off with a Vexatious Litigant Order just to make sure his dirty deeds never make to successfully to the Ontario court of Appeal. See the Roscoe blog at www.OttawaMensCentre.com


Posted 19/03/09 at 10:03 AM EDT