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Ethiopia: A tale of two Swedes



  11:00:45 pm, by admin   , 755 words  
Categories: Ethiopia

Ethiopia: A tale of two Swedes

Ethiopia: A tale of two Swedes

By Hindessa Abdul

On July 1, 2011 freelance journalist Johan Persson and photo journalist Martin Schibbye were detained in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. There are two versions as to why the Swedes were in the area. The first one, according to The Local, a Swedish online news journal, was to “report on the conflict between the Somali guerrillas and the Ethiopian state.” Then another version popped up in the court hearing which asserts that the journalists were in the area to investigate the Lundin Petroleum that was given licenses to explore oil in the East African Nation. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who was under tremendous pressure over the handling of the case, was a member of the board of the company.

But the government in Addis thinks otherwise. The two journalists have been supporting the rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) that has been designated a terrorist organization by Ethiopian parliament in June 2011.

The trial of the Swedes had attracted huge international media attention. Scores of Swedish journalists flew from Stockholm to express solidarity; international media representatives, diplomats, even the American ambassador in Addis, Donald Booth were among the attendees. Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were represented by top lawyers from both countries. The trial took a little more than two months. On December 27, 2011 a judge sentenced them to 11 years imprisonment for “supporting terrorism.”
The “high-level contact” between the two countries officials to secure the release of the detainees didn’t bear any fruit. But the relations between the two countries were tense for the past couple of years now. As a result, Addis Ababa decided to close its Embassy in Stockholm. “There is no development cooperation program of any substance between us and Sweden,” the Ethiopian PM told reporters in 2010. The two countries relation dates back to the middle of the 19th century. However, the Scandinavian nation of nine million didn’t reciprocate with the same. It kept its Embassy in Addis open for business.

So the Swedes had until January 10, 2012 to appeal. But heeding to “the best possible advice”, they decided - probably wisely - not to appeal. By now they should have a clear understanding of the justice system of the country. Their guilty verdict was pronounced long before the trial had begun. The PM famously told the Norwegian daily Aftenposten that they were “messenger boys of a terrorist organization.” Don’t blame Judge Shemsu Sirgaga. He was just executing an order from the “dear leader”.

Now there are already talks of the “a tradition of mercy”, Board of Pardon, Presidential Amnesty and so on. Truth be told, how long the Swedes will stay in Kaliti before they go home will squarely depend on the PM who happens to be the darling of the West.

The Kaliti prison which is found in the outskirts of Addis has become a pilgrimage to Ethiopian political dissidents and journalists. Hopefully the Swedes will have a firsthand experience of that grim environment should they want to write about it when they finally go home.

Injustice anywhere…
The justice system in Ethiopia is in shambles. The courts have long become instruments of repression. Judges routinely hand down death sentences and life imprisonment for political dissidents that nobody takes them seriously any more. See why the journalists are not appealing. Because “they felt that it was very unlikely that another judge would see it any different.” Isn’t the whole point of appeal the overturning of a decision by a lower court? What will a man loose by appealing an 11 year prison sentence? The answer is simple. Johan’s and Martin’s six month sojourn in custody gave them a clear picture of the Ethiopian justice system. So appealing is an exercise in futility.

Sadly, the injustice system that has prevailed in the country is primarily paid for by major European democracies who allowed an autocratic leader stay in power for 20-odd years. As usual the lip service has been duly rendered. “The sentencing on terrorism-related charges raises concerns about the freedom of media and expression in Ethiopia,” says a statement released by the EU representative.

How long will the process of pardon takes place will also depend on the regime’s intentions rather than rules and procedures. We all hope the two will be released as soon as possible and join their loved ones.
For the record, there are three local and two Eritrean journalists in Ethiopian prisons. And let’s not forget Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, just to borrow from Martin Luther King Jr.


Comment from: john john [Visitor]
john john

The Swedes know what they were doing they were well trained and planed in some where Europe before they get thier filty dirty feet on blessed Ethiopian soil. Thanks for Ethiopian deffence for succefully upper hand them than kill them at sight.

01/14/12 @ 00:08
Comment from: C'est moi senait [Visitor]
C'est moi senait

Crime and punishment

Even in cannibalism weyannes rule, there is a so called Law and punishment . The difference is the weyanne canngaroo court with broken sign in front of the gate is a clear evidence of how these chiggarams work. Do n’t they even ashamed to have that broken sign for the last 2 years. GIMMATAMS

01/14/12 @ 02:23
Comment from: Amy [Visitor]

After a decade of shelling out megabucks for reform of the Ethiopian justice system, the Canadians must be proud of their achievements. Bravo CIDA! Bravo Ottawa!

01/14/12 @ 04:21
Comment from: Extraterrestrial [Member]


You tend to be highly critical of the Ethiopian justice system, without regard of the divisive motive and activities of the so called “journalists”. No matter how much you trashed the Ethiopian justice system and no matter how much true are your perception of Ethiopia but, you can never be able to justify the unpalatable acts of the two Swedes.

There are certain clearly stipulated rights media personnel’s have in combat zones even if the nature of the conflict is non-international conflict as in the case of the ONLF and the state of Ethiopia. However, there is a clearly stated element in Humanitarian Law that no journalist can violate the laws of the country he/she wants to report from, in this case they have no right to illegally and clandestinely at night enter Ethiopian territory accompanying/guarded by what Ethiopia considers as a terrorist group (ONLF).

No media professional is supposed to practice with weapons with one group in conflict, if he or she wants to play a neutral and professional role in a battle field; there are unequivocal norms to respect for a media journalist in conflict situations. When they are handling automatic weapon it is a characteristic of taking a direct part in hostilities and automatically ceases their civilian and protected personnel status in conflict. Mixing with combat activates and identifying with one particular group while a media professional can’t save one from the attribution of being part of the conflict and from being a legitimate target as an enemy combatant or liable for persecution as they can’t be taken as prisoners of war when captured in non-international conflict.

There are certain category of personnel’s who can be considered as civilians in conflict, in this case as war correspondents or “independent” journalists but, this also require the war correspondent to have a clearly marked identity card from the armed group (ONLF) as independent journalists or war correspondents but, obviously ONLF never respected International Humanitarian Law never cared for the status of those two journalists in case they got captured. In fact ONLF is the only armed force in the region that deliberately and consciously use terror by slaughtering civilian including foreigners with disregard of its international responsibilities to spare civilians from the onslaught of conflict.

As usual as always was in the culture of the ONLF terror agenda in conflict to not respect international law never provided an identity card and a clearly marked emblem as it is now a day’s commonly referred as press emblem as required by humanitarian law to the two Swedes. As it become clear both during their arrest and then after in the court those “journalists” activity in the combat zone was never clearly marked. Media professionals, religious personnel or interpreter’s s acting on behalf of one party of the conflict can be considered to be combatants and thus legitimate targets of war if and when they don’t follow the laws of war. There are no protections of journalists when they are compromising their civilian status by toying with AK-47 or undermining domestic law and sovereignty of other states.

I believe the two Swedes are lucky and also admire the Ethiopian army for not shooting the two Swedes in the middle of the conflict they got captured (my assumption is that most likely the Ethiopian army have a tip either from the UK, Kenya or the semi-autonomous region of Punt land about the marching of two Swedish to Ethiopia. Otherwise the Ethiopian army could have thought of the two Swedes as Arabs who are fighting alongside the ONLF and kill them at the spot as there were dozens of fighters got killed in that particular clash).

The assumption was to record a well orchestrated fiction by ONLF on the violation of humanitarians and human rights laws by the Ethiopian army in Ogden and to make headlines in the international media that will award the Swedes fame, the ONLF emotional bank account in the heart of the international community and shame to the Ethiopian army, on extreme cases the Swedes can also be witness of fabricated stories of the ONLF in the face of the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide by the Ethiopian army.

The blunders of the two Swedes are even more evident when they claim unwisely they illegally crossed an international boundary to cover a report on petroleum exploration company that is connected to their country, such a claim can’t be taken as a justification to hire armed rebel group blacklisted as terrorists as private bodyguards and to violate the domestic law of a sovereign state. The blunder also extends to the unprofessional nature of the two Swedes who simply ignored the angel of the other side of the conflict by diving in to the hands and identifying only to one of the group in the conflict to dehumanize the other side. The Ethiopian state side was not in the plan of this blunder as to whether you call it investigative journalism or report coverage.

What makes you think the two Swedes decline to issue an appeal is because they understood the Ethiopian justice system as shamble as you think? Why not because they came to the reality of they were actually dead wrong, why not?

Thinking or attacking the Ethiopian justice system is one thing but, defending those “journalists” as innocent is completely another thing. In any country court you think is highly democratic and have a clearly separation of power among the three hands of government the two Swedes act will remain the same violation of law and abuse of profession.

I think even the ICRC that stood for the rights of Journalists in conflict zone will laugh at your understanding of the role of those journalists in this scenario in particularly if you are an Ethiopian. Unlike you the journalists, the authorities in Stockholm and the just international community knows it very well the two journalists are guilty of the crime they were convicted.

When is that you people will stop writing for political gambling and political consumption? Do you think by defending the two “journalists” in the ONLF case will help the democratization of Ethiopia?

Defending ONLF’s activity with their adventurist reporters and defending those who are working against the Ethiopian state for any Ethiopian is absurd and self defeating.

Do you know there is a big difference between a State and a Government? I think you don’t.

01/14/12 @ 10:32
Comment from: [Member]

I came across some Sweden citizens , and it has never been so easy to make them understand about our rulers.

01/14/12 @ 11:07
Comment from: menzew [Visitor]

why on earth is Ethiopian justice system in question when it comes to these white criminals? isn’t it clear what they had done? are we not entitled to regulate and survey our jurisdiction? aren’t there white criminals that need to face justice? illegal entry is a criminal act,thus should be accountable. case closed

01/15/12 @ 13:15
Comment from: Menelik Ashagire [Visitor]
Menelik Ashagire

Woyane Tigre without help from Wester is an empty Tanica.Tigre wedde mekele.This is we asked to Woyne before and even now.
Jag alltid tycker att Sverge har bra kick över,men,nu,alla är trott på den!
Sturday were a big demonstrtion in Stockholm anti Carl Bildt.I was there!!!

01/16/12 @ 06:30
Comment from: Heny [Visitor]

You are too hasty and uninformed dedeb to say, “The justice system in Ethiopia is in shambles.” Glad that Ethiopia has clown enemies like you.

01/16/12 @ 17:27
Comment from: WHATEVER [Visitor]

This whole circus is a joke, those two swede crackers aren’t terriost and will be released after the PM decides what it is he should trade their freedom for. The whole trial was simply the PM flexing his newly developed muscles bestowed on him by western powers, while taking his revenge on western media critiques. But take notice, he would never try to express his discontent with western media by jailing American or English reporters caught in the same scenerio, that would be political suicide. The Swedes were in the right place at the wrong time.

01/16/12 @ 23:43
Comment from: Habesha21 [Visitor]  

First of all I would like to say thank you to one of the bloggers in this blog “Extraterrestrial”, I wouldn’t have phrased it better. Bloggers “whatever’ and “C’est moi senait” I suggest you familiarize yourself with the laws of other countries on matters of terrorism, treason, and conspiracy before you make comments about Ethiopia’s judicial system and better yet it’s judgment regarding the two Swedish journalists.

“WHATEVER” and “C’est moi senait” you seem to think western government laws are better than that of Ethiopia’s in matters concerning a country’s security, well think again. The penalty for treason in the united states under Title18-part1-chapter115- § 2381 is death. In the United Kingdom the penalty for treason under the Treason Felony act 1848 is death or imprisonment for life, etc. As for terrorism, in the united states under Title18-part1-chapter113B- § 2332b the punishment is 35+ years in prison and for conspiring with terrorist or assisting terrorists is considered as though a terrorist act was completed and the penalty is the maximum punishment that would have applied had the offense been completed, which would be death or imprisonment for life. In the United Kingdom under Terrorism Act 2006 (c. 11) Part 1 the punishment for terrorism, conspiring or encouragement of terrorism can have a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life.

Having said, that there was some incriminating evidence against the two Swedish journalists of their involvement with the terrorist group ONLF, moreover, they themselves did admit that they had entered Ethiopia illegally and that they did have talks with ONLF members. I would assume that would fall under the category of conspiracy with terrorists and assisting terrorists which is not an issue that is ever to be taken lightly. So to those of you, who think that the judgment that was made against the two Swedish journalists is too harsh, and make comments of how unjust the Ethiopian justice system is; here is a question, how is Ethiopia any different than other governments? Should Ethiopia all of sudden begin to make exceptions on how to penalize terrorists?

There may be a lot of things I might disagree with when it comes to the choices and decisions the Ethiopian judicial system makes, this is however not one of them. Most Ethiopians may not be happy with the current government and may deeply despise EPRDF, however, (like extraterrestrial stated in his comment) shouldn’t our attitude towards the state and government be different. I believe that we should be very wary of the comments and decisions we make, don’t let blind rage consume you to the point where you disregard national security.

01/18/12 @ 22:14



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