Nova Scotia

Sydney man urges Ottawa to do more in cousin's Ethiopian imprisonment

The cousin of a man imprisoned in Ethiopia is growing frustrated with delays in bringing him back to Canada.

Bashir Makhtal convicted of terrorism-related charges in July 2009, but denies wrongdoing

Canadian Bashir Makhtal, 45, has been in jail in Ethiopia since 2007. (Toronto Star/Canadian Press)

The cousin of a man imprisoned in Ethiopia is growing frustrated with delays in bringing him back to Canada.

Said Maktal is a student at Cape Breton University in Sydney. His cousin, Bashir Makhtal, 46, has been in prison in Addis Ababa since 2007 on terrorism charges, which he denies.

Makhtal, an ethnic Somali born in Ethiopia, came to Canada as a refugee in 1991 and became a Canadian citizen three years later.

He moved back to the Horn of Africa in 2001 to open a clothing business, which operated from Dubai, Eritrea, Kenya and Somalia.

Makhtal was among dozens of people captured at the border between Somalia and Kenya in December 2006 when Ethiopian troops invaded the country. Makhtal was convicted of terrorism-related charges in July 2009.

Amnesty International says he did not get a fair trial.

Federal government accused of not getting involved

Said Maktal says the Canadian government has taken little interest in the case.

"They're not putting pressure on this case," said Maktal. "This is what I think personally, if they really wanted to bring this citizen, Bashir Makhtal, back to Canada, they can do that."

Maktal says there's been a distinct change in the foreign affairs department's handling of the case, since the resignation of minister John Baird last spring.

Baird took a personal interest in the case, speaking on the telephone with Maktal about it several times, and visiting Bashir Makhtal in prison during a visit to Ethiopia in 2010.

Said Maktal says the federal government has taken little interest in his cousin's case. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Maktal says he is no longer able to speak directly with anyone in the department about his cousin's case.

"The way I see it, he (Baird) closed the doors for me," said Makhtal. "Like I can't even talk to the foreign affairs people that I used to talk to." 

He also says he has been told none of the embassy staff have been able to visit his brother in Addis Ababa since March.

Bashir Makhtal's lawyer, Lorne Waldeman, says the case is a very low priority for the federal government.

'There's been absolutely no commitment or interest on the part of government officials in the case at all," he said.

Federal government says it is working on case

However, an official with Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada says the government is taking an active interest in the case.

"Former Minister Baird, Minister Yelich and Minister Paradis have raised Mr. Mahktal's case and concern for his wellbeing with Ethiopian officials, and the Government of Canada will continue to do so," said spokesperson Amy Mills in an email.

She says Canadian officials have been providing consular assistance to Makhtal since becoming aware of his situation and continue to provide consular assistance to him and his family.

Makhtal signed papers in February to approve a transfer to a prison in Canada to serve the rest of his sentence.

His family believes that would give him access to better medical care, as well as a chance to appeal his conviction.

Said Maktal said he has not been able to find out when or if that transfer will take place.

Public Safety Canada, the federal government department which oversees international prison transfers, said it cannot comment on individual cases.


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