By Debra Black,
Family and supporters of Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian jailed for life in Ethiopia, are denouncing Prime Minister Stephen Harper for inviting Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to the G20 summit in Toronto.
“We should not allow the Prime Minister of Ethiopia to come to this country,” said Said Maktal, who has spent the past 3 1/2 years campaigning on behalf of his cousin.
Said Maktal and his group want Harper to rescind the invitation or, if Zenawi attends the G20, they want him to first release Makhtal.
Makhtal’s supporters plan to hold a news conference in Ottawa on Friday with Amnesty International to draw attention to what they describe as Zenawi’s abuse of human rights and international law.
Members of the Somali community also plan to protest Zenawi’s presence at the summit.
Makhtal, an ethnic Somali from the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, was arrested at the Kenya-Somalia border in December 2006 and sent to Ethiopia in shackles on a top-secret flight in January 2007. He was held for about 18 months before he was allowed to see a lawyer or consular officials.
Convicted of terrorism and sentenced to life last summer, the former Torontonian is now in jail for being a member of a separatist group, engaging in an armed struggle against the government, and aiding and abetting the Islamic Courts Union, a religious alliance that seized control of Somalia before it was ousted by U.S. and Ethiopian forces in 2006.
Supporters and family members say Makhtal’s only apparent crime seems to have been that he is the grandson of the founder of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a group dedicated to winning independence for the oil-rich region in Ethiopia.
Makhtal’s supporters, including his wife, who is now in Canada, had pinned their hopes on Transport Minister John Baird, who has a large Somali population in his riding of Ottawa West-Nepean.
Baird, who has repeatedly said he believes Makhtal was unjustly convicted, went to Ethiopia earlier this year. He met with Makhtal in jail in Addis Ababa as well as with Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs minister and returned saying that a process was underway to hopefully release Makhtal.
But so far Makhtal remains imprisoned. Family and supporters have been told that the government is now considering a prisoner transfer, which would bring Makhtal to Canada but he would have to serve at least 10 years in jail.
This is unacceptable, says Said Maktal who has always maintained his cousin’s innocence.
“He doesn’t deserve to serve any time. My cousin did not commit any crime in Canada or abroad.”
Baird is scheduled to meet again with Said Maktal and his cousin’s lawyer, Lorne Waldman, on Friday after the news conference.