Jailed Canadian a ‘significant irritant’ in Ethiopia relations: Baird

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks to members of the media in Ottawa on April 24, 2012. (CHRIS ROUSSAKIS/QMI Agency)

June 13, 2012, OTTAWA (Toronto Sun) – A Canadian citizen languishing in an Ethiopian jail is straining relations between Canada and the east African country.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has been the most high-profile champion for the release of Bashir Makhtar, an Ethiopia-born ethnic Somali who became a Canadian citizen in 1994.

Baird spokesman Rick Roth said Tuesday the minister “has made clear to the highest levels of the Ethiopian government that this case will continue to be a significant irritant in our relations.”

Makhtal’s family was in Ottawa Tuesday trying to raise awareness about the case they worry has fallen off the federal government’s radar.

Roth said Baird has spoken with both Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, and his counterpart Hailemariam Desalegn specifically about his case.

“Unfortunately, the Ethiopian government continues to stand firm on the verdict,” Roth said in a statement.

Makhtar, a Toronto IT specialist, was arrested crossing the Kenyan border from Somalia in December 2006 while on a business trip, and illegally rendered to Ethiopia a few weeks later.

He was convicted of three terrorism related offences in 2009 and sentenced to life in prison in an Addis Ababa jail.

Canadian officials say he’s innocent and Amnesty International says his trial fell far short of international legal standards.

Said Maktal, Bashir Makhtal’s cousin, said he’s been informed that the case is complex and difficult to solve.

“I don’t understand why it’s not easy,” he said. “What are we doing wrong?”

While Maktal said he’s grateful for Baird’s support after the minister took up the case in late 2008, he now wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper to step in directly to help secure his cousin’s release.

“Five-and-a-half years – this is too long,” he said.

Toronto Sun