A Canadian awaiting trial on terrorism-related charges in Ethiopia was described as injured and malnourished in a human rights report released yesterday.
Human Rights Watch said it had interviewed a former detainee who saw former Toronto resident Bashir Makhtal in a prison in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
“He was limping. He had a deep cut in one of his legs. He looked weak. He looked so famished,” the report quoted the unidentified witness as saying during an interview conducted at a refugee camp.
The report did not directly accuse Ethiopia of mistreating Mr. Makhtal but it did say that detainees like him have been subjected to “brutal beatings and torture.” It also quoted a man who was detained with Mr. Makhtal as saying that Ethiopian interrogators had repeatedly asked, “Are you al-Qaeda” and beaten him when he said no.
He was arrested in December, 2006, as he was crossing from Somalia into Kenya. He was secretly flown to Mogadishu, Somalia, where he was handed over to Ethiopian officials who brought him to Addis Ababa.
At the time, Islamist militants in Somali were fleeing toward Kenya to escape U. S.-backed Ethiopian and Somali troops. The Canadian government has claimed that some of the Islamists fighting in Somalia were actually Canadians.
Mr. Makhtal immigrated to Toronto from Ethiopia and is the grandson of the founder of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, an Ethiopian guerrilla group, but his family says he was only selling used clothing in Somalia.
The New York-based human rights group yesterday released a report, titled “Why Am I Still Here?” that named Mr. Makhtal as one of 10 who were sent to Ethiopia as part of a rendition program and who remain in detention there.
The report said several of the men were interrogated by American officials in the Ethiopian capital soon after they were transferred there from Kenya and Somalia. Others remain unaccounted for, it said.
Mr. Makhtal was placed in solitary confinement, the report said. He could face the death penalty if convicted at his upcoming military trial.
Canadian officials visited Mr. Makhtal in July, 2008. Ethiopia has assured Canada he will have a lawyer at his trial.
The report called on the Canadian government to ask Ethiopia either to prosecute Mr. Makhtal in a civilian court that meets international standards or release him and return him to Canada. The Department of Foreign Affairs had no comment yesterday.