A Canadian citizen who has been imprisoned in Ethiopia for more than a year has been charged with terrorism-related activities and could face the death penalty, CBC News has learned.
The Ethiopian Embassy in Canada confirmed the charges against Bashir Ahmed Makhtal, a self-described used clothing dealer.
It's the first time any Ethiopian officials have spoken about the case of the Toronto man, who was arrested in December 2006 at the Kenyan border after fleeing Somalia in the wake of that country's civil war.
Speaking to CBC's The Current, an official at the Canadian Embassy in Addis Ababa said Makhtal had appeared in court twice so far this year in connection with his arrest. The official had no other details.
In a letter smuggled out of prison more than a year ago, Makhtal described being arrested and interrogated by Ethiopian troops while in Kenyan jails before being sent to Ethiopia in late January 2007.
As he was brought to a plane bound for the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, he said he screamed he was a Canadian citizen and asked to be deported to Canada.
Makhtal's lawyers and family have said they fear for his safety in Ethiopian hands. He's originally from the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, an ethnic Somali enclave where his grandfather founded a rebel separatist movement.
His cousin, Said Makhtal, who lives in Hamilton, Ont., said this latest development is the worst possible news.
"I was actually devastated. I had to stop the car I was driving," he said after hearing about the charges.
He also said the Canadian government has not done enough to help his cousin.
Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, travelled to Ethiopia in March and was given assurances that Makhtal was alive and well.
Ethiopia has a large military presence in Somalia, after providing the muscle that enabled a weak secular government to defeat Islamist forces formerly in control of much of the country.