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

Nearly 900 Dead, Missing in 2014 Air Disasters

Southeast Asia took a particularly heavy hit; 3 major events involved weather, two planes were shot down in eastern Ukraine, and one crash was attributed to mechanical problems More

Video Islamic State Emergence Transformed Syria, Iraq in 2014

'It was very clear that there were problems building up in Iraq at the end of 2013 but everybody was distracted by Syria,' says one expert, explaining group's rapid rise More

Rights Group: IS Executed Nearly 2,000 in Syria in 6 Months

Islamist group also killed 120 of its own members, most foreign fighters trying to return home, in past two months, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 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.
Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaisei
X
Daniel Schearf
December 25, 2014 4:34 PM
Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Russians Head Into Holiday Facing Economic Malaise

Russian preparations for the New Year holiday are clouded by economic recession and a tumbling currency, the ruble. Nonetheless, people in the Russian capital appear to be in a festive mood. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Mombasa in Holiday Tourism Slump Due to Security Fears

Kenya's usually popular beachside tourist destination of Mombasa is seeing a much slower holiday season this year due to fears of insecurity as the country has suffered from a string of terror attacks linked to Somali militants. Mohammed Yusuf reports for VOA on how businessmen and tourists feel about the situation.
Video

Video For Somalis, 2014 Marked by Political Instability Within Government

While Somalia has long been torn apart by warfare and violence, this year one of the country's biggest challenges has come from within the government, as political infighting curtails the country's progress, threatens security gains and disappoints the international community. VOA's Gabe Joselow report.
Video

Video 2014 Saw Intensification of Boko Haram Insurgency

The year 2014 saw Nigerian militant sect Boko Haram intensify its five-year insurgency and target civilians in large numbers as it seized territory in the northeast. The kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok in April sparked global outrage, but failed to become the turning point against the sect that Nigeria’s president said it would be. The picture at year's end is one of devastation and uncertainty. VOA’s Anne Look reports.
Video

Video Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syria

Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more.
Video

Video US Political Shift Could Affect Iran Nuclear Talks

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis are continuing into 2015 after Iran and six world powers failed to agree by a November deadline. U.S. domestic politics, however, could complicate efforts to reach a deal in the new year. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video NYSE: The Icon of Capitalism

From its humble beginnings in 1792 to its status as an economic bellweather for the world, the New York Stock Exchange is an integral part of the story of America. VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from Wall Street.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Fight to Survive Water Crisis

In a region choking from dwindling water supplies, Lebanon has long been regarded as one of the few places where there is enough. But in recent years, half the people in the country have faced severe shortages. And the more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon are hit the worst by the water crisis, making the country's most vulnerable people increasingly impoverished and sick. Heather Murdock reports for VOA in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid