By Dharra Budicha
On Dec. 21, two Swedish journalists were convicted in Ethiopia on terrorism-related charges and may now face up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Photojournalist Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye were arrested on Jul.1, 2011 for ‘unlawful entry’ and ‘supporting terrorism’ upon entering the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, an area strictly closed off to journalists as well as aid organizations.
Persson says their intentions were to shed light on the troubling conflict in the Ogaden region, and also investigate the alleged violations of human rights by Ethiopian troops committed on a daily basis in the area. Both Persson and Schibbye admit to having entered the country illegally and without proper documentation via Somalia, but deny any affiliation with terrorist groups and all forms of terrorist crimes.
The case of Persson and Schibbye is hardly a unique one. In Ethiopia, seven journalists are in prison and ten journalists have been charged with terrorism since Jun. 2011, with reports that more than 150 people – many of them journalists and activists– have been arrested since May 2011.
According to the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists, Ethiopia has the second highest number of jailed journalists in Africa, second only to its own neighbor, Eritrea. Ethiopia’s growing use of anti-terrorism laws to persecute journalists is a “politicized measure to intimidate the press”, says CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes.
Supporters of Persson and Schibbye say the Ethiopian government violated Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and are advocating for the journalists’ release. Persson and Schibbye will be sentenced on Dec. 27. Meanwhile, the United States expressed concern saying, “the verdict appears to equate reporting about terrorism with support for terrorism.”
*Dharra Budicha, is a student journalist, human rights activist, and OPride.com correspondent in Canada. Follow her on Twitter.