‘I expected to die in there’: Canadian jailed in Ethiopia for 11 years wants Ottawa to learn from his ordeal
Questions remain about why case wasn’t taken more seriously, says secretary general of Amnesty International
A Canadian citizen who spent 11 years in an Ethiopian prison is calling on the government to learn from the failures in his case, and make sure it never happens again.
“I expected to die in there,” said Bashir Makhtal, who was convicted on terrorism-related charges in 2009 and given a life sentence. Amnesty International has described the charges against him as “blatantly unfair,” and called his ordeal “an 11-year saga of grave injustice.”
Makhtal was kept in solitary confinement, without access to the outside world, for two whole years. He described conditions as harsh, with often sub-zero temperatures, and not enough food, light or ventilation. For 24 hours a day, he said, he could hear other prisoners being interrogated.
At a press conference to be held later today, he will call on the Canadian government to learn from the mistakes made in trying to help him, and the additional suffering it caused. He will urge the government to carry out an independent review of those efforts.
“Someone has to take the responsibility of what happened to me,” he told Anna Maria Tremonti Tuesday on The Current in his first interview since he was released suddenly in April and returned to Toronto.
‘I tried to resist’
Makhtal was born in Ethiopia of Somali descent, and became a Canadian citizen in 1994. He was working in Somalia in Dec. 2006 when Ethiopian troops invaded. While trying to cross into Kenya to find his wife, he was detained. He was removed to Nairobi, where he contacted the Canadian Embassy. Staff came to see him — their offices were one block from where he was being held — and told him they had raised the issue and were awaiting a reply.
Two weeks later, Kenyan officials told Makhtal he was being deported to Ethiopia.
While he was being taken to the airport, his wife tried to call the embassy, he said. But it was a Saturday — the offices were closed.
“I tried to resist when the Kenyans forced me to board the plane,” he told Tremonti. “I lay down on the runway, crying and saying; ‘I’m not Somali, I’m not Ethiopian, I’m not going anywhere.'”
Makhtal asked to be deported to Canada. Instead, he was beaten brutally, he said, and put on the flight to Ethiopia.
He was placed in solitary confinement, and not seen or heard from for the next two years.
“There’s a lot of questions that remain as to why the case wasn’t taken more seriously than it was at the time,” said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.
Makhtal had been interrogated by Ethiopian security officials while in Nairobi, Neve said, and had flagged this to Canadian officials.
“That’s not usual,” Neve told Tremonti, “that Ethiopian security officials suddenly show up in a Kenyan jail cell to talk to a Canadian detainee.
“But it doesn’t seem that that elevated the case. It didn’t seem to push it up to senior levels of ambassadors and ministers starting to look at it very seriously.”