Freedom House condemns the conviction of Swedish journalists in Ethiopia

Freedom House calls for the immediate release of Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, who were found guilty December 21 of “supporting terrorism” and "violating territorial or political sovereignty.”  This conviction follows their arrest in early July when they were discovered in the country by Ethiopian forces during a clash with members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) – a group regarded as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government.  The Ethiopian government accused the journalists of entering the country illegally from Somalia and working together with the ONLF.  The two journalists denied this claim, contending that they had entered the country to work on a story for an American-based magazine investigating controversial oil exploration in Ethiopia’s Somali region.  In a statement released after the verdict was announced, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt defended the journalists’ activities and called for their immediate release.  The men are scheduled to be sentenced on December 27; the government prosecutor has recommended a sentence of 18 years in prison.      

The conviction of Persson and Schibbye continues an alarming trend in Ethiopia, where the government has repeatedly prosecuted journalists and other members of civil society under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and other draconian legislation.  Since March 2011, more than 100 people have reportedly  been arrested under the proclamation, including members of the country’s the two main opposition groups.  According to Human Rights Watch, 29 Ethiopian journalists, opposition members, and others are currently on trial under the anti-terrorism law.  In 2011, Ethiopia was downgraded to “Not Free” in Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World Report due to national elections that were thoroughly tainted by the intimidation of opposition supporters and candidates, and a clampdown on independent media and civil society organizations. 

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