Kangaroo court sentenced 2 Swedish journalists to 11 years

(CNN) — Two Swedish journalists who were found guilty in Ethiopia of supporting terrorism were sentenced to 11 years in jail Tuesday, the Swedish Foreign Ministry said.

“Our belief was that the court would think they were journalists and they would be released. This is what the prime minister has said before,” ministry spokesman Anders Jörle said. “It is not fair that they are sentenced since they are journalists on a journalistic mission.”

“They are innocent and have been convicted because of their journalistic work,” said Tomas Olsson, the journalists’ Swedish attorney. “We are very disappointed.”

A court convicted Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye last week.

Ethiopian Woaynne troops captured Persson and Schibbye in July during an exchange of gunfire with a rebel group in the Ogaden, a prohibited region along the nation’s border with Somalia, according to state media.

Ethiopian Woyanne officials accused the journalists of being accomplices to terrorism after the government declared the Ogaden National Liberation Front a terrorist group in June.

Olsson said the 11-year sentence was the lowest possible one for the crimes they were convicted of.

“The prosecutor sought 18 years imprisonment, so if you look at it that way, it is a positive thing that they got the lowest possible sentence,” Olsson said. “But since they are innocent, they are very disappointed.”

Schibbye and Persson have until January 10 to decide if they want to appeal — a process that could take up to two years — or if they want to seek a pardon.

However, Olsson said, if they want to apply for a pardon the two have to admit the crimes, “and since they are not guilty then this is not something they’d want to do.”

Fredric Alm at the Sweden-based photojournalism agency Kontinent, for which the two men work, said they “have a very hard decision ahead of them” in considering whether to appeal or ask for a pardon, but that an 11-year sentence in an Ethiopian prison “could effectively be a death sentence for them.”

Alm added: “The purpose of this verdict is to scare away all journalists from reporting in the Ogaden. But as journalists we have to continue reporting from closed areas. It’s a very sad day for press freedom. It’s a very sad day but it didn’t come as a surprise for us. It’s still a political verdict; it’s not a real trial. It is the (Ethiopian) prime minister who has decided.”

Persson and Schibbye were convicted on two counts: entering the country illegally and providing assistance to a terrorist organization, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Press freedom groups say the two were embedded with the rebels while working on a story about the region.

Journalists and aid workers are prohibited from entering the Ogaden, where human rights organizations say human rights abuses against ethnic Somalis by rebels and Ethiopian troops are rampant.

“The Ethiopian Woyanne army’s answer to the rebels has been to viciously attack civilians in the Ogaden,” said Georgette Ganon of Human Rights Watch. “These widespread and systematic atrocities amount to crimes against humanity.”

Reporters Without Borders criticized the court’s decision.

“What are the Ethiopian authorities hoping to achieve?” the international secretariat of the group asked. “To discourage anyone from visiting the Ogaden, as these two journalists did? To send a warning signal to the national and international media about the danger of receiving a long jail sentence on a terrorism charge if they attempt any potentially embarrassing investigative reporting?”

“Our starting point is and remains that they have been in the country on a journalistic mission,” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said in a statement last week. “They should be freed as soon as possible and be able to rejoin their families in Sweden.”

But presiding judge Shemsu Sirgaga said the two “have not been able to prove that they did not support terrorism.”

“They have shown that they are esteemed journalists, but we cannot conclude that someone with a good reputation does not engage in criminal acts,” Sirgaga said.

Both journalists pleaded guilty to entering the country illegally through Somalia without accreditation, according to the CPJ, which says Ethiopian officials deny media access without government minders.

“We have documented violations of due process and the politicization of their trial,” the CPJ said, complaining that the government pronounced the two guilty even before the trial started.

Amnesty International called for their release ahead of Tuesday’s sentencing.

“There is nothing to suggest that the two men entered Ethiopia with any intention other than conducting their legitimate work as journalists. The government chooses to interpret meeting with a terrorist organization as support of that group and therefore a terrorist act,” said Claire Beston with the human rights group.

In a statement issued in September, Kontinent said that its journalists do not take sides or participate in any conflict and report under international rights regarding freedom of the press, which it believes should be upheld by any government.

The trial against the journalists turned into a fight for press freedom in Ethiopia, according to international journalists’ organizations. In a letter sent to the United Nations, Reporters without Borders accused Ethiopia of using its anti-terrorism law to lessen press freedom and penalize free speech.

“In the name of the fight against terrorism, the government muzzles dissident and critical voices, thus abusing human rights and fundamental freedoms,” wrote the secretary general of Reporters without Borders, Jean-Francois Julliard

7 thoughts on “Kangaroo court sentenced 2 Swedish journalists to 11 years

  1. The Meles regime is playing psychological fortification of its agenda in the Western psych because he is assured that the West is ambivalent in criticizing him for the terrorist agenda that he is playing in Somalia and for the fear of the West that China is luring the third world if the West stubbornly stand for principles of “human rights”, “democracy” and the like. Hence, these Swedish are being punished for what Meles has with the Swedish government and EU in terms of its diplomatic leverage thereby drawing the line that no one question the regime while it is subduing any domestic opposition in the effort to build a Chinese model of one-party political system.

    Most of all, the message being sent is for Ethiopians who have high esteem of the West – the regime is telling them with no uncompromising terms that EPRDF has zero tolerance to any opponent – be it foreigners and let alone domestic opposition.

    Although a not so decisive matter, the verdict may be a blessing in disguise as it would draw the kinds of brutality the Ethiopian people live under the Meles regime who are being silenced with brute force of torture, killings and harassments. The West is tolerating Meles on the premise that an annual cooked statistics of growing the economy 8% is an absolution for the repression of the regime. Moreover, the West compares Africans in terms of people who are not ready for democracy just yet.

    Instead the West shall make it clear to Meles that freedom of speech is far different from terrorism and a crime of any sort has four elementary fundamentals of “a criminal act”, “a mental element of guilty mind”, ‘the concurrence/happening of the two” and the “a causation element of the act caused the harm”. Here, we do not see any of these elements. Maybe Meles is punishing these people for what they may have thought on their minds? Moreover, in crime, the prosecution has to prove these all four elements by 99% of evidence. But what the judge said was that the criminals did not prove that they are not criminals. Whose job is it to prove that?

    So welcome to our world, where the Almighty Meles can do anything at whim.


  2. Tom and Jerry on

    It may be a blessing in disguise for the Ethiopian nationals who are suffering in prisons right now. This verdict by the kangaroo court further exposes how the regime is oppressing dissent. And the so called international community and medias who gave deaf ears to the plight of Ethiopians may give more attention to human right abuses in the Ogaden region in particular and in Ethiopia in general.

    The kangaroo court gave the verdict in order to save the crime minster(pm) ,who already said in Norway that they have commited crimes,from embarassment.

    I am confident that the same crime minster will advise the Sweedish to appeal to the high court and will let them free, because the lower court has already served his claim and even with Chaina’s support he can not aford to be against the West.Otherwise it will be the beginning of his end. Do you remember the Ethiopian saying that could be translated as…” When a mouse seeks its death, it sniffs into a tom Cat’s nose”.

    The other thing the crime minster could try would be to advise them to appeal for a pardon. But I don’t think they would be hoodwinked into admitting a guilt that they did not comit, that is the speciality of Ethiopian opposition politicians.

  3. Woyanne played the same sleight of hand it did against its domestic adversaries: it indicted the Swedish journalists in public before even due process (Woyanne style) began; it took them to a kangaroo court with Woyanne judges, Woyanne prosecutors and Woyanne defence lawyers. The prosecutors and defence lawyers would pose as adversaries in court which is their veritable acting stage. In the evening, the top security brass would coach them on the next court scene, debrief them on the previous act, etc. They effectively succeeded in hoodwinking the Swedes and the whole world that a due process is alive and well. The choreography has worked perfectly — so far.

  4. Elias,
    Are you saying these ‘journalists’ should be let go with what they have commited? Indeed you are a mercenary for by the Eritrean mafia

  5. Anonymous on

    Since 1991, One Devil-out and More Devil-in. The weyanne government is chicken. Before they passed the 11 year sentences against Two Swedish journalists, he told Two swedish officials who used to assisted him with arms and Money, he/the Devil said, “I will send them free. I just want show the Media, they are sentenced. In case, they will be seen by some people in Sweden or anywhere, I will say they appealed and went free with conditions”. The weyanne government never win war with anyone. We seen how many times he wet his pants when he spoke with egyptian officials. He pee in his pant four times on row, when he meet former egyptian president, Hussein Mubarak, witnessed by current jailed and exiled Ethiopian journalists and France president sarkosy. The weyanne government is like a fool dog, who could bite if you scare and who could runaway if you turn against him. The weyanne cadres has been caught when they keep murdering the Amhara diasporas secretly in Arab countries and everywhere. They are paying also for the hit-man. The weyanne government bought biological weapons from Iran and Syria at the past, and still using it against Amhara and Oromo peoples by spraying in their gathering and by injecting them with syringes. These frog weyannes will live only short until the water hiding them dry. Their water is basically, the stolen Money from Ethiopian people. We seen them how they look with stolen money, while ethiopians are starving. They have no ideas where they going after they will get kicked out from the entire Ethiopian lands.

  6. MAMIYE on

    The unjust prison sentence of Swedish Journalists, Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson is an evidence of the nature of Addis Ababa regime as a terror regime, which do not respect Human Rights, and freedom of press. By sentencing these innocent two journalists the Ethiopian regime headed by Meles Zenawi has blatantly violated article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that ”Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”. Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson are prisoners of conscience and must be supported by the international community. Journalists all over the world cross frontiers in order to report all sides of a story. The journalists went there without the permission of Addis Ababa due to the illegal blockade of Ogaden.

    This sentencing is intended to divert attention from the blunder committed against the reporters by shooting them and then keeping them in illegal detention for more than six months. Furthermore, It is meant to dissuade journalists to ever try visiting the Ogaden, without stage-managed visited by the regime. This ruling has finally closed the door of any hope of freedom of press and expression in Ethiopia. It is indicative of the totalitarian nature of the Meles regime and its abhorrence of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of press. It further shows to what extent the regime is willing to go in order to hide the crimes it has committed against the Ogaden civilian population. If the regime deals with neutral journalist in this way, the world can understand now the conditions that people in Ogaden and Ethiopia are subjected to, and the nature of the legal system in Ethiopia. The autocratic ruler of Ethiopia already prejudged the journalists, by stating in Norway that the journalists were at ‘at best the messenger boys of terrorists’. That is the cue the judged based his ruling, since in such systems the leader’s word is sacrosanct.

    The Ethiopian regime, as a totalitarian regime denies the local and international media to visit Ogaden unless they are stage-managed. Contrary to what has happened in Ogaden, journalists often enter conflict zones without visas, and the worst these governments do is to expel them. Most authoritarian governments are reluctant to give access to international reporters, especially in conflict zones unless they are stage-managing it. Ethiopia is the first government to persecute reporters who have done nothing but to search the truth. The autocratic ruler of Ethiopia already condemned the journalist by stating that at best they were the messenger boys of terrorists, while in Norway and the judge simply followed that order. Hence this act would establish a dangerous precedent all over the world regarding freedom of press unless the international community stand up to this challenge and make those governments that engage in such practices pay dearly for trying to gag the of press.

    This is crime against humanity not only against the two brave journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson.

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