Two Swedish journalists charged with terrorism in Ethiopia last month face trial today in Addis Ababa, with the European Federation of Journalists and rights groups criticising the process. Photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, both freelancers, have been held in jail since they were arrested on 1July with Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels after a battle with government troops. The Swedes were wounded during the gunfight, in which 15 rebels were reportedly killed.
On 7 September, they were charged with being engaged in terrorist activities, aiding and abetting a terrorist group, and entering the country illegally without permission from neighbouring Somalia.
Commenting on the trial Arne König, President of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) said: “This is a trial of shame; this is a trial in breach of international law.”
The two journalists, Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were captured by Ethiopian forces when entering the Ogaden province of Ethiopia in early July. They have since been held in jail and today they will stand in an Ethiopian court accused of terrorism.
The two colleagues are working journalists who went to Ethiopia to investigate reports of human rights abuses and the fight for oil interests in the area. They entered Ethiopian territory without a permit, which normally would result in their expulsion from the country, as with other journalists before them. Instead, they were arrested and charged with terrorism.
“In the shadow of the 9/11 attacks on the US, many governments have used anti-terror laws to silence journalists,” said König. In the United Kingdom many photographers working and covering demonstrations wear T-shirts saying “I’m a Photographer, Not a Terrorist”. The same applies to our Swedish colleagues who were investigating claims by the organisation Human Rights Watch, that human rights were being violated on a massive scale in Ogaden.
The Ethiopian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is extremely wide in its interpretation, says the EFJ. The law is violating several rights and basic principles of justice in international law, among them the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights and the International Red Cross interpretation of the Geneva Convention. To classify demonstrations and other forms of expressing opinions as terrorist acts for example is against the international definition of terrorism.
Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson are accused of committing terrorist acts, and of connections with the anti-government armed guerrillas, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). If found guilty the two journalists could face up to 40 years in prison.
The EFJ is demanding their immediate release.