Thirteen Canadian humanitarians who were detained in Ethiopia over allegations they were practising medicine without permission and dispensing expired medication have been granted bail.
Canadian Humanitarian, the organization the detainees represented, said 10 Canadian volunteers and three staffers, along with two Ethiopian staffers, were granted bail on Tuesday but will remain in prison in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar while the necessary documentation is processed. In a statement, the Alberta-based organization said it hopes the detainees will be released on Wednesday.
“At that point, they will be free to move within the country, but it is uncertain when Ethiopian authorities will allow their return to Canada,” the statement read.
James Murphy, a brother-in-law of one of the detainees, said the situation has been “deeply distressing” for everyone involved.
“We are focusing all of our efforts on getting our loved ones back to Canada safely and quickly," Mr. Murphy said in a statement provided by Canadian Humanitarian.
The organization said a representative from Canadian Humanitarian and consular officials were granted brief access to the prison where the Canadians were being held, confirming they had received fair treatment. Ethiopian authorities have suggested the detainees may need to remain in Ethiopia while the investigation is completed, the organization said.
Heather McPherson, the Alberta NDP international development critic, said she knows some of the detainees, as she has previously volunteered with Canadian Humanitarian. She said Tuesday’s bail decision was a step in the right direction, but added she will remain cautious until the Canadians are released and allowed to come home.
"We don’t want to jinx anything, but at this point, there is that positive news that it does look like we will at least see them in more comfortable conditions,” she said in a phone interview.
Ms. McPherson travelled to Gondar with the organization in 2012, when she led a group of Alberta high school students who were volunteering. She said the organization is prudent in the field.
Canadian consular officials were present for Tuesday’s bail hearing, Ms. McPherson said.
Canadian Humanitarian said the group, which included Canadian doctors and other medical professionals, was detained on “allegations that they were practising medicine without permission and had dispensed expired medication." It has said it cannot comment on the “specifics of the expiry of the medication." However, it said it had the necessary permits to be providing medical care in Ethiopia and that the medicine and care offered by its team in the country were safe.
In a statement Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s office said he spoke to his Ethiopian counterpart, Gedu Andargachew, about the detentions, but did not provide details from the call.
“The government of Canada continues to be fully engaged in this matter and officials are in contact with local authorities to gather further information. Consular officials are providing consular services to the Canadian citizens and their families,” said Syrine Khoury, Mr. Champagne’s spokesperson.
The government did not provide any more information, citing privacy concerns.
Canadian Humanitarian describes itself as a non-political organization that has provided urgently needed medical and dental support, education programs and other humanitarian needs to thousands of Ethiopian youth over the past 15 years.