The Return Of Bashir Makhtal
By Juweria Ali,
‘Ninkii moodi mowd inuuhelayow Mudane Makhtal Daahir baa yimid’
Jubilant crowds welcomed the return of Makhtal Dahir in 1961 when Haile Selassie pardoned him after serving 12 years in the same prison that his grandson will be imprisoned decades later. Almost 60 years later, the equally highly anticipated return of Bashir Ahmed Makhtal to his homeland as a free man, was celebrated in the same way that the return of his grandfather was celebrated.
Having served 12 years of a life-time sentence as a political prisoner in Ethiopia, Bashir Ahmed Makhtal- grandson of celebrated liberation leader Garaad Makhtal Dahir, has returned home for the first time since fleeing Degahbur at the age of seven. The tale of Bashir Makhtal and his family serves as one of the most poignant examples of the decades of violence and injustice suffered by the inhabitants of the Somali Region. Carrying the name of his courageous grandfather has always been a source of immense pride for Bashir, but unfortunately, it was also going to be a cause for his misery.
Makhtal Dahir (1894-2000), is a household name in the Somali Region; his combined role of a political and traditional leader coupled with his strong sense of political convictions and unyielding commitment to fight against all forms of oppression, has elevated his stature among Somalis globally. His name has become a source of dignity and pride for Somalis everywhere and a symbol of true liberation.
Garaad Makhtal Dahir founded Ogaden Liberation Front (OLF) in the 1960s, and served as the Somali Youth League (SYL) Jigjiga representative .
Makhtal Dahir founded Ogaden Liberation Front (OLF) in the 1960s, and served as the Somali Youth League (SYL) Jigjiga representative. In 1949, he travelled to Mogadishu to participate in SYL’s congress where British colonial forces captured him and later handed him over to Haile Selassie. He was held for five years in underground detention centres at various points in his life, and served an additional twelve years in Makalawi prison (then named Alabaqa) from 1949; the same prison where his grandson was to be held 50 years later. Both were sentenced to death initially, replaced by life imprisonment. Makhtal died in 2000 at the age of 106, having left a momentous legacy on the course of Somali nationalism in his homeland and beyond.
The story of Bashir
Bashir Ahmed Makhtal was born in Degahbur just like his grandfather, he fled to Somalia at the age of seven where he attended school. In 1989, he travelled to Italy where he was sponsored to be reunited with his older brother in Canada, he arrived in Canada in 1991, and became a citizen in 1994. During his time in Canada, Bashir obtained a degree in computer science and worked as a computer technician. In 2001, he moved to Djibouti for business purposes and spent his time travelling between Dubai, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti, and it was a 2006 trip to Somalia that was to change his life forever. Due to intense fighting between Somalia and Ethiopia during this period, Somalia had closed its airspace and Bashir was forced to travel overland from Somalia to Kenya in order to escape the violence.
On New Year’s Eve, 2006, December 31st, Bashir was arrested by Kenyan officials, he was held at the Kenya-Somalia border for several days and questioned about the escalating situation in Somalia. Following this, Bashir was transferred to Nairobi to be detained, it was then that he was questioned by two Ethiopian security agents alongside Kenyan officials. Canadian officials did little more than write two letters of concern to the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, and by Saturday 20th 2007, he was taken to Nairobi airport away from the main terminals to a cargo area where he managed to secretly make a call to his wife to alert her of the situation. Bashir refused to board the plane and protested by laying down on the runway, as a result he was severely beaten, blindfolded, tied-down and forced onto the aircraft among 34 others.
After a few days in Mogadishu, Bashir was among 16 other civilians who were flown to Addis Ababa on an Ethiopian military aircraft. Placed in solitary confinement, Bashir was interrogated daily at Makalawi detention centre where he was subjected to horrific torture in an underground cell where temperatures were below zero, and the floors often wet. Bashir was held without due process or access to any legal representation or his family members. For a period of time, no one knew of his whereabouts, but news eventually emerged of his detention and that he was potentially facing the death penalty.
Between February and August 2008, a military tribunal was tasked with deciding whether Bashir’s case would be heard by a military court, and by October 2008 it was decided that the case would be heard in a civilian court. He was then transferred to Kaliti Prison in January 2009, where he spent the following nine years. It was then that he was finally able to see family members for the first time in two years, and to eventually hire a lawyer.
His trial took place between January and August 2009, when he was charged with supporting the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), Bashir was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2009 without a fair trial. In his speech to the Canadian House of Commons, Bashir states the following:
Bashir appears to have been caught up in the wave of widespread abuses on civil liberties across Ethiopia and Somalia around the time of his imprisonment.