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Two Swedish journalists found guilty of "supporting terrorism", face 15 years in jail

(WiPC/IFEX) - 21 December 2011 - The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International is deeply concerned by the news that the Swedish journalists Johann Persson and Martin Schibbye have been found guilty of 'supporting terrorism' by an Ethiopian court. The reporters were arrested on 1 July 2011 in Ethiopia's Ogaden region, following a battle between Ethiopian forces and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). The ONLF is regarded by Ethiopia as a terrorist organization. Persson and Schibbye were charged under anti-terrorism legislation and face up to 15 years' imprisonment.

Martin Schibbye (30), reporter for the Swedish news agency Kotinet, and photographer Johan Persson (29) were arrested in Ethiopia's Ogaden region on 1 July 2011 after a clash between Ethiopian forces and the ONLF. The pair had entered Ethiopia from Somalia on a journalistic assignment without visas and had been travelling with ONLF fighters. (Crossing borders without permission is common practice for journalists reporting from conflict zones.) Both journalists were slightly injured in the fighting.

There are serious concerns about the fairness of the trial, which has seen political interference in the proceedings and the use of fabricated evidence: in October 2011, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, publicly accused the men of being accomplices to terrorism; during a court session in November 2011, the prosecutor presented what he later admitted was doctored video footage of Schibbye and Persson apparently playing with ONLF rifles. The journalists maintain that the guns belonged to a security guard at a hotel in Somalia. The pair were also denied a translator during the trial.

Matthias Goransson, editor of Swedish "Filter" magazine for which Schibbye has worked, and a witness at the trial, says that the pair had been on assignment to report on alleged violations of rights linked to the activities of Swedish oil company Lundin Oil. The Ethiopian military has been accused of committing rights violations - including killings, rape and driving away local communities - in order to protect the foreign oil operations. Goransson says that he knew that the journalists had been planning to enter Ethiopia illegally as it was unlikely that the Ethiopian government would have granted them access to the Ogaden region.


Ethiopia's antiterrorism law, which criminalizes any reporting deemed to 'encourage' or 'provide moral support' to groups and causes which the government considers to be 'terrorist,' has been widely criticized as being vaguely worded and catch-all. It carries sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

Seventy-nine journalists have fled Ethiopia during the last decade, according to statistics provided by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). During this time, the government has also expelled members of the foreign press, including reporters from the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Recommended action:

Please send appeals:
- Calling on for the immediate and unconditional release of the journalists Martin Schibbye and Johann Persson
- Expressing concern that the journalists have been arrested purely in relation to their journalistic activity, in violation of the right to freedom of expression protected under international human rights treaties to which Ethiopia is a party, including the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights;
- Protesting the unfair trial in which political interference and fabricated evidence were prominent

Appeals to:

Minister of Justice
Berhanu Hailu
Ministry of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 7775/ 7755
Email: [email protected], [email protected]
Salutation: Dear Minister

Please also send a copy of your letter to your nearest Ethiopian diplomatic representative (the contact details for some Ethiopian embassies are listed here:

Please send appeals immediately. Check with International PEN if sending appeals after 15 January 2012.

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