Friday, November 20, 2009

'They tortured him, they stomped on him'

Bashir Makthal in undated photo

(Don't really know why this particular story never made it. There have been others about Bashir.)

By Jorge Barrera (2009)
the cutting room floor

The Conservative government needs to do more to free a Canadian man facing a life sentence in Ethiopia or he may end up like his older brother whose death last Friday was caused by torture suffered in prison, says a relative living in Addis Ababa.

Bashir Makhtal, 40, an ethnic Somali born in Ethiopia who emigrated to Canada as a teenager, was sentenced in August by an Ethiopian court to life in prison on terrorism charges. An appeal court hearing of his case was scheduled for Friday, the relative said. Makhtal denies all charges. The Conservative government has also pledged to work on bringing the Toronto resident home.

Makhtal’s 29-year-old niece, however, said the government should work faster to free him because his life faces increased danger the longer he remains in prison.

The woman, who only wanted the name Fadamuk used because she feared government reprisals, said her prayers for Makhtal have turned more urgent after watching her uncle — Makhtal’s older brother — die last Friday, three months after his prison release.

Hassan Ahmed Makhtal, in his late 50s, died from various complications caused by the torture he endured in prison, said the niece, who cared for her uncle in his last days.

“They tortured him, they stomped on him ... there was a big bruise on his head and it was from being hit with the butt of a gun,” she said, through an interpreter during a telephone interview with cutting room floor from her home in Addis Ababa Friday. “He was in pain ever since he came out ... he could not fold his legs without feeling pain, there were bruises all over his skin, there were green and blue bruises.”

She said Makhtal’s body was so broken when he came out of prison a doctor who examined him asked whether he had been in a car accident.

Imprisoned in 2007, Makhtal was kept in a dark, dirt-floor prison cell. Prison guards drenched the floor with water so he would be forced to drink mud to quench his thirst, she said.

“His advice was for the Makhtal family to flee this place, that they will never be safe here,” Fadamuk said. “They use to tell him that his family was all gone and dead.”

Only Fadamuk and another woman attended Makhtal’s burial. The rest of the family was either in prison, like Makhtal’s 16-year-old son and Bashir Makhtal, or had fled to Kenyan refugee camps and to other parts unknown. Fadamuk said her own children fled with their grandmother three years ago.

She now survives on a little money from a relative in Canada and keeps a low profile, not even daring to venture to the local Internet cafe to sign up for an email address.

Fadamuk said the Ethiopian government has persecuted the Makhtals because a family patriarch was the founder of the Ogaden National Liberation front, a group committed to gaining independence from Ethiopia.

Bashir Makhtal, who was born in the Ogaden region, was detained by Kenyan authorities in December 2006 when he tried to cross into the country from Somalia.

He was one of about 100 foreigners arrested at the same time, all of them accused of belonging to fundamentalist Islamic terror organizations.

Most of those detained have since been repatriated by their governments.

“Why is Bashir the only foreign national that his government has not come to him?” said Fadamuk. “Even African governments that don’t give any aid to Ethiopia and they came to have their citizens released. Why has Bashir’s not come for him?”

Makhtal was deported without due process to Ethiopia in January 2007, where he remains.

Ottawa-based human rights activist Fowsia Abdulkadir, who acted as the interpreter during the interview with Fadamuk, said it’s time for the Conservative government to get tougher with Ethiopia, which received over $85 million in aid from Canada in 2006-2007.

“Where does the aid go? Does it go to the people who need it or is the government using it to build a military machinery that oppresses people?” said Abdulkadir, who has campaigned for Makhtal’s release and is a member of the Ogaden Human Rights Committee.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government is growing increasingly more repressive, clamping down on civil liberties and snuffing dissent, according to critics at home and abroad.

“Neighbourhood-level ‘cadres’ report minor occurrences ... including residents’ whereabouts and visitors,” reported Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group in September. “Barely visible to outsiders and foreigners, this (government) party control discourages dissent and constantly reminds people who is in charge.”

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