Swedish journalists on trial for terrorism in Ethiopia

Two Swedish journalists charged with terrorism in Ethiopia after being arrested during a battle between government troops and rebels will go on trial on Thursday.

The reporter Martin Schibbye and photojournalist Johan Persson, both freelancers, were detained in July while travelling with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a outlawed separatist movement. Ethiopia’s government insists the Swedes are terrorists, not journalists, and claims to have video footage of the two men training with the rebels.

The case has drawn criticism from press watchdog groups, and has prompted outrage in Sweden. Media organisations there claim that the journalists were investigating human rights violations by Ethiopian troops in the restive Ogaden region, where foreign companies, including the Swedish firm Lundin Petroleum, are looking for oil and gas.

Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt, is a former board member of Lundin, and has been accused of not acting firmly to try to secure the journalists’ release. Bildt denies this, and has sent an envoy to Addis Ababa to monitor the case.

The trial was due to start on Tuesday, but was delayed because two rebels accused alongside the journalists did not have court-appointed lawyers. If convicted, the Swedes face up to 15 years in jail.

Together with ONLF guerrillas, Schibbye, 31, and Persson, 29, crossed from Somalia into Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, which is off limits to journalists, in June. On 1 July, they were detained during a gun battle with government troops.

Around 15 rebels were killed in the battle, and the journalists were reported to have sustained minor injuries. The Swedes, who have worked for several Swedish newspapers and magazines, were charged with immigration offences, and under anti-terrorism legislation that was passed in 2009.

Human rights groups say the laws are being used to silence critics of the government.

In an interview with Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper earlier this month, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, said prosecutors had video clips of the journalists “training with the rebels”.

“They are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organisation,” Meles said. “They are not journalists. Why would a journalist be involved with a terrorist organisation and enter the country with a terrorist organisation, escorted by armed terrorists, participating in fighting in which a terrorist organisation was involved? If that is journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.”

Ethiopia’s record on press freedom is poor.

Over the past decade, 79 Ethiopian journalists have gone into exile, more than from any other country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In the year to May 31 2011, five Ethiopian journalists fled the country.

Only Cuba, Iran and Eritrea had worse records over the same period. —

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertisting

In East Africa, the locusts are coming back for more

In February the devastating locust swarms were the biggest seen in East Africa for 70 years. Now they’re even bigger

Western Cape Judge Mushtak Parker faces second misconduct complaint

The Cape Bar Council says his conduct is ‘unbecoming the holding of judicial office’

‘My biggest fear was getting the virus and dying in...

South African Wuhan evacuee speaks about his nine-week ordeal

Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might

Why South Africa should consider amnesty for undocumented migrants in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories