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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube 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.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid