An Ethiopian court has sentenced two Swedish journalists to 11 years each in prison for charges of supporting terrorism and entering the country illegally. Mohammed Yusuf for VOA spoke to Tom Rhodes of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for his take on the court ruling.
Yusuf: As an organization which promotes press freedom and defending the rights of journalists, what do you make of the ruling of the Ethiopian court to sentence two Swedish journalists to 11 years in prison?
Rhodes: We feel like this is a politicized court case and it’s more a sort of indicator of the insecurities of the ruling party rather than a legitimate rebuttal for what these journalists did. I mean you know the Swedish government, CPJ and press freedom organizations and other journalists within Ethiopia itself have all said the same thing: these two were journalists doing their job. Yes, they crossed illegally and this was an offense but this idea of them promoting terrorism just seems like a politicized move in that part.
Yusuf: Did the journalists break the law?
Rhodes: You know the only law they broke and even admitted it quite openly is crossing over the border illegally. But I can’t think of any country in the world where one gets 11 years imprisonment for crossing the border illegally. This is the only offense I think. It’s unfortunately what is bogging us down is the 2009 anti-terrorism law which clearly is used far too easily in a sweeping fashion to suppress.
Yusuf: Do you think they had a fair trial?
Rhodes: No not at all. You know first, we had the prime minister himself publicly declaring that they are terrorists before even the trial began. Another did it on less direct terms but he also made the same comment in parliament two weeks later. So in my view and the view of CPJ we feel that the outcome was already predicted before the court case began.
Yusuf: Today’s (Tuesday's) ruling, what does it say about Ethiopia's record on press freedom?
Rhodes: My fear is that we are going back in time where we are returning to the dark days of 2005 when there was a mass crackdown on journalists after the elections. I am also afraid that Ethiopia, whose press freedom was always to some extent - actually quite a significant extent - better than their neighbors, Eritrea, is now sinking into the same level of their neighbors.