News / Africa

Ethiopia Convicts Swedish Journalists of Supporting Terrorism

Pedestrians walk past the Federal High Court building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 1, 2011.
Pedestrians walk past the Federal High Court building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 1, 2011.

Two Swedish journalists arrested in the company of rebels in Ethiopia's restive Ogaden region have been found guilty of supporting terrorism. The case is attracting wide attention from international human rights and press freedom groups.

Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson appeared stunned as Ethiopian High Court judge Shemsu Sirgaga pronounced them guilty of aiding a terrorist group and entering the country illegally.

They face a maximum of 18 years in prison. Sentencing is set for next week.

The two Swedes were arrested June 30 in Ethiopia's Somali region while traveling with rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which is fighting for regional autonomy. The region has been off-limits to most outsiders for years while government troops carry out what human rights groups allege is a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against the ONLF.

Schibbye and Persson admitted entering Ethiopia illegally from Somalia, but denied supporting the rebels. They told the court they were investigating a Swedish firm allegedly involved in oil exploration in the conflict zone.

The case is being closely followed in Sweden because of the firm's ties to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

In reading the verdict, Judge Shemsu told the pair he accepted their claim to be journalists, but said it was hard to believe they could be impartial while breaking the laws of a sovereign country.

The verdict surprised the large contingent of foreign observers, diplomats and Swedish journalists who had been following the trial. Ingrid Dahlback of the Swedish news agency TT said the weight of evidence had raised hopes that the defendants would be found not guilty of supporting terrorism.

“I thought the judge would at least take some of the arguments from the defense, but as it seems he went almost only on the prosecutor's line," said Dahlback. "So it's very bad news for the Swedish journalists, and I would say it's bad news for freedom of the press.”

An ashen-faced Swedish ambassador to Ethiopia, Jens Odlander, said the next move would be up to authorities in Stockholm.

“This is very disappointing,' said Odlander. "We have to analyze the situation.”

The reaction from Stockholm was swift. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt issued a statement saying the journalists were on a legitimate assignment and should be freed immediately. He said his government was already in high-level contact with Ethiopian officials on the matter.

Mats Larsson, who covered the trial for Sweden's mass-circulation Dagens Nyheter newspaper, says the verdict would likely have domestic political repercussions.

“There's been a big discussion in Sweden about the role of the Swedish foreign minister," said Larsson. "There are accusations that he has seen these two guys as left-wingers in the wrong part of the world and that this was their own fault that they came into this situation. And the result of this trial is a disaster for the Swedish government and for the relatives and for the two Swedish journalists and for freedom of speech in the world.”

The verdict also sparked condemnation from human rights and press freedom defenders. Amnesty International called the two journalists “prisoners of conscience," and said it sees no evidence they were supporting the ONLF.

The media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders earlier sent a letter to the United Nations accusing Ethiopia of muzzling dissent.

Eight Ethiopian journalists are also currently on trial on terrorism-related charges - three in person and five others in absentia. Some of them could face the death penalty if convicted.

You May Like

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid