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Monday, August 3, 2009

Ethiopia jails Canadian for life


A Canadian citizen has been jailed for life after being convicted of terrorism charges in an Ethiopian court.

Judges found Ethiopian-born Bashir Makhtal was a member of a separatist group fighting for independence for an ethnically Somali part of the country.

Prosecutors had wanted him executed, but the judges decided against it.

Rights groups say the prosecution failed to produce any credible witnesses and Bashir's lawyers say he will appeal against the conviction.

The Ethiopian government has denied the trial was unfair.

Bashir had repeatedly denied being the leader of the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), saying he was being persecuted because his grandfather had helped found the rebel group decades ago.

He was among dozens of people arrested when Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006.

Second-hand clothes

Bashir's family in Canada say he was held in solitary for nearly two years with no access to lawyers or embassy officials.

His relatives say he was a businessman, trading in second-hand clothes and was in Mogadishu on a business trip when the Ethiopians invaded.

But the Addis Ababa court found him guilty of four charges:

• that he was a member of the ONLF central committee between 1999 and 2006

• that he recruited and trained ONLF members at a military camp in Eritrea

• that he led a contingent of the ONLF in the field against the Ethiopian army in Ethiopia's Somali region

• that he collaborated with Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts in Eritrea in an effort to overthrow the Ethiopian government

The ONLF, founded in 1984, is fighting for the Somali-speaking population in Ethiopia's oil-rich Ogaden region, saying it has been marginalised by Addis Ababa.

Reports say Bashir left Ethiopia aged 11 and does not speak the local Amharic language.

The 40-year-old, who has a Canadian passport, was arrested crossing the border between Somalia and Kenya.

His family say he was trying to get away from the fighting.

Other foreigners detained in 2006 - among them Swedes, Americans and Kenyans - were questioned and eventually released into the custody of their own governments.


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