News / Africa

Ethiopian Court Mulls Journalists' Role in Conflict Zones

Pedestrians walk past the Federal High Court building housing a terror trial against two Swedish journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 1, 2011.
Pedestrians walk past the Federal High Court building housing a terror trial against two Swedish journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 1, 2011.

The trial of two Swedish journalists charged with supporting terrorism in Ethiopia has ended with a discussion of the role of reporters in conflict zones.

The defense wrapped up its case by calling two veteran foreign correspondents as witnesses.

A three-judge Ethiopian federal court panel is to hand down a verdict December 21 in the case of freelance journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson. The pair are charged with offering support to the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a rebel group Ethiopia has labeled a terrorist organization.

Schibbye and Persson were arrested June 30 in the company of ONLF fighters, after a gunbattle between the rebels and Ethiopian troops, who are engaged in a counter-insurgency operation in the region. A video recorded a day after the clash and played in court Wednesday shows the two men wearing bandages from minor wounds suffered in the exchange of fire.

ONLF communiques sent by email tell of frequent clashes in the mostly Muslim region, which borders Somalia. The claims cannot be independently confirmed because the region is off-limits to most outsiders, but government officials have described the reports as “exaggerated."

The case of the two Swedes gained notoriety after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi publicly commented on the charges against them. In an interview with a Norwegian newspaper, Meles said they were “at the least messenger boys for a terrorist organization."

At the trial, Schibbye and Persson admitted illegally crossing the border from Somalia into Ethiopia, but denied supporting the ONLF. They said they were in the Ogaden to investigate the activities of a Swedish oil firm with interests in the region.

As they closed their case Wednesday, defense attorneys called two veteran foreign correspondents to testify about how journalists operate in conflict zones.

Adrian Blomfield, the Middle East correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph, said reporters must sometimes travel to off-limits areas and meet what some would call unsavory characters in search of stories that governments would prefer are not told. He summarized his testimony for VOA.

"People who have reported in conflict zones often for various reasons may cross a border unofficially or with a particular group, and I just wanted to get across the point there is nothing untoward, there is nothing sinister about this. This is just how journalists operate, and sometimes we get caught, but we don't expect to be charged with terrorism as a result," said Blomfield.

Blomfield said he explained to the court that what Schibbye and Persson did is standard procedure for reporters covering conflicts.

"This is not an unusual case. This is what journalists do all over the world for whatever reasons," said Blomfield.

Schibbye and Persson were charged under a recently enacted anti-terrorism law criticized as “overly vague” by human rights and press freedom groups. The statute criminalizes any reporting deemed to encourage or provide moral support to groups that the government considers terrorists.

If convicted, the two Swedes could face up to 15 years in prison.

Sweden's ambassador to Ethiopia, Jens Odlander, told reporters after the trial the Stockholm government remains steadfast in its contention that Schibbye and Persson are bona fide journalists. He expressed optimism for a favorable verdict.

"I'm expecting a good outcome. I don't want to elaborate too much on it, but I expect a very good outcome from this," said Odlander.

Attorneys say final arguments in the case are to be submitted in writing within the week. The court is scheduled to hand down its verdict in the final 10 days of the year.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Tour Will Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

US secretary of state to visit 5 countries in the Middle East, South Asia in bid to strengthen economic and security ties, ease concerns over deal with Tehran 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs