Home | News    Wednesday 29 July 2009

Ethiopia convicts Canadian on terrorism charges


By Tesfa-alem Tekle

July, 28, 2009 (ADDIS ABABA) –Weeks after Ethiopia passed a new Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, a court in Addis Ababa on Monday found an Ethiopian-born Canadian citizen guilty on 3 counts of terrorism-related charges.

The Federal high court convicted Bashir Ahmed Makhtal of being senior member of a "terrorist" group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), aiding and inciting terrorism in the troubled Ogaden region, where government and rebel forces repeatedly battle.

The 36 year-old man, Ethnic Somali, is also accused of supporting Somalia’s Islamist movement which declare jihad war against Ethiopia before the pullout of Ethiopian forces from Somalia early this year.

Makhtal denied the charges, but the court is scheduled to pass sentence on August 3. His lawyer says he will file an appeal once sentence is passed next week.

There are fears that; the Canadian citizen could possibly face death penalty in Ethiopia.

A community group in Ottawa, Canada, has repeatedly expressed its worries on the case of Makhtal who has been held for almost two years in Ethiopia’s prison.

The group has raised its voice, arguing that the convict has been denied access to lawyers and consular officials. They recently have called on the federal government to intervene in Makhtal’s case.

Makhtal whose grandfather believed to be a founder of the ONLF organization is said to be one among a group of 41 foreign nationals captured at the border between Somalia and Kenya in 2006 while crossing the border to Kenya after Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia to oust the Islamist courts which had taken control of the capital Mogadishu.

Ethiopia has long designated the ONLF rebel group as a terrorist group which it says is supported by arch-foe Eritrea.

The ONLF routinely accuses government forces of rights abuses in the Ogaden region, which borders neighboring Somalia

After the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in 2007 claimed responsibility for an attack on Chinese run oil exploration field in Ogaden that killed 74 people, Ethiopian forces launched an assault against the group.

Ethiopia on July 7, passed a proposed Anti-Terrorism Proclamation unchanged, despite concerns raised by a number of domestic and international groups.

Human Rights watch criticized the law saying it is premised on an extremely broad and ambiguous definition of terrorist activity that could permit government to repress wide range of internationally-protected freedoms, and contains provisions that undermine fundamental due process rights.

The United Nations special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights stated that the concept of terrorism should be limited to acts committed with the intention of causing death or serious bodily injury, or the taking of hostages.

Ethiopia’s new law defines terrorism in such a way that it includes acts that do not involve violence or injury to people, such as property crimes and disruption of public services. The penalties range from 15 years to life imprisonment or even a death sentence.

An analysis by HRW suggests that whoever thrown stone or offered water or food to a political protester might find himself thrown to jail on terrorism charges.

"This law is a legal cover for every unlawful action the government has been and is taking against political dissent and free press," said Beyene Petros, chairman of the opposition United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) party, which voted against the legislation recently told foreign journalist .

But, Beyene argues, even without this law, the "security forces have been above the law. They already make arbitrary arrests and stifle freedom of expression; yet the law intensifies this practice. We objected to the fact that the law is against the country’s constitution and the issues it is planned to address are under the jurisdiction of the existing criminal codes of the country," he said. "The country does not need this law."


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