Written By MERGA YONASThe trial of Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson the, Swedish reporter and photographer respectively, on charges of terrorism and violating Ethiopia’s sovereignty by associating with the Ogaden National Lebration Front (ONLF), which the Ethiopian government has listed as a terrorist group, was adjourned for verdict after the hearing into the evidence of the defendants was completed this Wednesday. According to Jens Odlander, Swedish Ambassador to Ethiopia, the trial is a time taking and complex one. He said the defendants appeared nervous standing before the court on Tuesday to give their side of the story.
On the request of the ambassador, four witnesses who are close to Schibbye and Persson appeared before the Third Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court on Tuesday and Wednesday. The witnesses gave their testimony about war reporting. They testified that it is customary to approach guerrilla fighters and contact terrorist groups with a view to report issues of public interest.
The defendants gave their account to the court saying that the purpose of their trip was to verify information about human rights violations in the Ogaden region that they received from refugees and the role of a Swedish oil company, Lundin Oil, in the region.
Schibbye told the court that their mission as journalists was to explain the complex situation to readers and that as Swedish journalists they have a responsibility to look into human right issues all over the world which have links to Sweden.
“As a foreign correspondent, I am responsible to gather information on human rights-related issues and report on them. During this time I talk to good and bad people or groups to get the information.”
According to the Swedish embassy here, though the court has dropped the charge of participating in terrorist activity against Schibbye and Persson, nonetheless they have to answer to charges of supporting a terrorist group and entering Ethiopia illegally. Although both journalists have admitted that they entered Ethiopia without visas, they have denied all allegations of terrorisms that were levelled by the Ethiopian government.
It was on Friday the first of July this year that the defendants were arrested in Ethiopia by security forces while they were crossing the border from Somalia to Ethiopia heading to Ogaden.
“What happens now is bigger than us, our families and media colleagues, but it is about everybody who cares about press freedom and human rights,” said Schibbye and Persson, according to the Swedish embassy.
Representatives of international organizations working on freedom of the press have raised concern and demanded the release of Schibbye and Persson. CPJ’s Africa consultant Tom Rhodes said that journalists should not be detained for seeking to cover an under-reported story.
“They were only trying to do their job, reporting on a conflict which is not well understood outside of the region,” Arne Konig, president with EFJ said. “It is the duty of journalists to provide independent and impartial information which requires access to the location.”
By MERGA YONA