By Carol Sanders, Winnipeg Free Press
A Winnipeg man who has helped rescue hundreds of people from violence in Ethiopia fears he can’t save his own son, who was jailed there shortly after arriving from Canada two weeks ago. “I’m very worried,” Juhar Hargaaya said Monday.
His 26-year-old son, Fewaz, left their home in Transcona to visit family in Ethiopia, but was arrested for carrying walkie-talkies and jailed at Dire Dawa in the notorious Ethiopian prison system. “It’s very bad,” said his father, who arrived in Canada as a refugee in 1990.
Hargaaya, a forklift driver who works seven days a week with a part-time job on weekends, has helped to sponsor hundreds of refugees from Ethiopia over the last 20 years, said Tom Denton at Hospitality House. Sponsorship documents from the Winnipeg refugee ministry were found among Fewaz’s things after he was arrested in Ethiopia. The forms, critical of the Ethiopian government’s treatment of its people, were for four Ethiopians who’d fled to neighbouring Djibouti, waiting to come to Canada.
Now, Fewaz is in trouble for criticizing the government, said his younger sister, Iftu. “The conditions in Ethiopian prisons aren’t the best,” said the 24-year-old University of Manitoba student. “We don’t know if he has access to food and water.” Her brother hasn’t been able to contact his family or get a lawyer, Iftu said, adding “there’s a guard working in the prison letting our family know.” What they know so far isn’t good. “He got sick, so they took him to a hospital,” his sister said. “They said he should undergo an operation.”
Terrified at the prospect of being given anesthetics in an Ethiopian prison hospital, Fewaz refused and asked to go home to Canada for treatment. “They brought him back to the prison,” Iftu said. Desperate, he climbed onto a roof to yell for help and was shot at by prison guards. Though he wasn’t hit, he was grabbed, beaten and hauled down to an underground cell, she said. The Hargaaya family contacted the Canadian government to have someone at the Embassy there check on Fewaz in Dire Dawa, she said.
Iftu fears her brother was jailed because he was trying to help people get out of the country and because their family is Oromo, a community struggling for self-determination in Ethiopia. Fewaz was arrested after he refused to sell electronics he brought from Canada to a man, said Iftu. The irate buyer was angry and called the police, who found Fewaz with his Canadian “walkie-talkies.”
Police searched the home he was staying at and found sponsorship documents from Hospitality House for two more adults and kids Fewaz’s father in Winnipeg was trying to help come to Canada. Hargaaya is one of Hospitality House’s most supportive clients, said Denton. “It’s remarkable what he’s accomplished,” said Denton.
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