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

Sydney Hostage-taker Failed to Manipulate Social Media

Gunman forced captives to use personal Facebook, YouTube accounts to issue his demands; online community helped flag messages, urged others not to share them More

UN Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help War-Hit Syrians

Effort aimed at helping Syrians displaced within their own country and those who've fled to neighboring ones More

Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

It's an umbrella group of militant organizations whose objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan 'whether through peace or war' 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.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid