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'Sweden should ask for US help to free journalists jailed in Ethiopia'

The Local · 17 Oct 2011, 12:36

Published: 17 Oct 2011 12:36 GMT+02:00

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As Martin Schibbye and Jonas Persson enter their fourth month of captivity in Ethiopia, the hope that their cases would be resolved quickly is dimming fast.

They are charged with "aiding terrorism" and it looks like the Ethiopian courts intend to proceed with a criminal trial.

If so, the two are undoubtedly facing a lengthy ordeal.

Still, their situation looks far more hopeful than that of their colleague Dawit Isaak who has spent ten years in jail in neighbouring Eritrea without charge or trial.

At least we know where Schibbye and Persson are held and that they are healthy. They have also had access to Swedish diplomatic representatives, a fundamental provision of international law and one yet to be granted to Dawit Isaak.

And it is an encouraging sign that Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg apparently discussed Schibbye and Persson's imprisonment in some depth with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Zenawi who was visiting Oslo just a few days ago.

If the Isaak case provides any applicable lessons, it is the hope that the Swedish government this time will act decisively on behalf of their two captured citizens. And with Ethiopia, Swedish officials should have a good chance to do precisely that.

While Eritrea has been branded a pariah state for its support of Islamic terrorist networks in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia has been embraced by Western governments, especially by the US, as a bulwark against such groups.

And, as the Washington Post reported just last month, Ethiopia is about to become even more important in the US strategic planning to oppose the violent intentions of Islamist movements in the area.

On September 21, Washington Post reporters Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller exposed the fact that the US has been preparing for four years to install predator drone bases in Ethiopia.

These are to supplement similar bases in other African countries, such as Djibouti and the Seychelles, and on the Arab Peninsula.

According to the report, Ethiopia is to play a key role in the United States' preemptive counter-terrorism strategy where "the aim is to provide overlapping circles of surveillance" of areas and groups sympathetic to al Qaeda.

As Whitlock and Miller point out, Ethiopia already provides critical support, especially linguistic skills, to the fight against the al Shabbab network in Somalia.

Many international political and legal observers have raised serious concerns about the expanding drone strike capabilities of the US military, including the weapons' use to carry out targeted assassinations of known and potential terrorists.

Especially worrisome are civilian casualties resulting from such attacks. Swedish law Professor Ove Bring, former Swedish foreign minister Hans Blix, US legal expert Stephen L. Carter, and others have all called for a thorough debate about the many ethical questions raised by drone warfare.

European and US lawmakers should join this discussion and stress in particular that they will not condone the growing abuse of domestic anti-terrorism laws in the Horn of Africa, either as a tool to silence critics or to prevent public scrutiny of abusive practices.

While Schibbye and Persson were ostensibly arrested for covering the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front (which the Ethiopian government deems a terrorist organisation), it appears that their detention was more likely linked to their investigation of the catastrophic effects of Lundin Petroleum's oil and gas exploration on the civilian population in Ogaden province, as was first documented by Kerstin Lundell in her book, Affärer i blod och olja. Lundin petroleum i Afrika (Ordfront, 2010)

Swedish officials should be able to use the debate about these core questions to their advantage and to lean on their American counterparts to offer practical assistance to gain the release of Persson and Schibbye, before Sweden can formally support US military plans in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the region.

Just as Sweden played a pivotal role in the release of two American journalists captured in North Korea in 2009, the US can hopefully find a way to return this favor in Ethiopia.

Thanks to the Swedish Ambassador in Pyonyang, Mats Foyer, US diplomats were able to communicate with the two young women, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who had been arrested for trying to interview North Korean defectors.

Story continues below…

A deal was struck and with the intervention of former US president Bill Clinton, the two journalists were released five months later, when the North Korean government issued them a pardon.

Perhaps US officials and Bill Clinton can now work similar magic on behalf of two Swedish journalists?

Such bold and positive action may also draw wider circles: solving Schibbye and Persson's cases may provide the necessary impetus for European countries to reevaluate their problematic support of Ethiopia in its still sweltering border conflict with Eritrea.

In 2002, Ethiopia simply ignored a finding of the International Boundary Commission that had ruled in favor of Eritrea, regarding the disputed Badme territory. The international community, viewing Ethiopia as a "vital strategic partner", more or less chose to overlook the affront.

As Africa expert Michela Wrong argued in a sharply worded commentary for the Financial Times this past August, the decision proved to be a major factor on Eritrea's path to becoming the pariah state in the region and its intractable position in human rights cases like that of Dawit Isaak.

Sweden may now have a real chance to correct two major ills in one go. Hopefully Swedish decision-makers will not hesitate to think outside the box and work with their international partners to secure the release of all three of its citizens.

Susanne Berger is a US-based German historian heavily involved in research into the life of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who helped prevent the arrests of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Second World War.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

14:27 October 17, 2011 by Opinionfool
There's no oil in Ethiopia so why would the US be interested in anything that happens there. They weren't interested when the famine happened there in 1984; the money raised by the US part of Band Aid was significantly less than that raised in England and/or Europe. They are not going to be interested in getting Swedish reporters freed either; why help nationals of a country that tries to call your actions to account morally?
16:51 October 17, 2011 by TEDLA
Dictatorship is State Terrorism

Zenawi's "anti-terrorism" diktat is intended to muzzle journalists from criticizing, youths from peaceably demonstrating, opposition parties from political organizing, ordinary citizens from speaking, civic leaders from mobilizing, teachers from imparting knowledge, lawyers from advocating scholars from analyzing and the entire nation from questioning his dictatorial rule. It is a "law" singularly intended to criminalize speech, police thought, outlaw critical publications, intimidate hearts, crush spirits, terrorize minds and shred constitutional and internationally-guaranteed human rights. When the State uses the "law" to silence and violently stamp out dissent, jail and keep in solitary confinement dissenters, opposition leaders and members, suppress the press and arbitrarily arrest journalists, trash human rights with impunity, trample upon the rule of law and scoff at constitutional accountability, does it not become a terrorist state? WHO IS TERRORIST MELES ZENAWI OR .FREELANCE REPORTER MARTIN SCHIBBYE AND PHOTOGRAPHER JOHAN .PERSSON?
19:21 October 17, 2011 by Cornelius Hamelberg
Suddenly everybody is giving advice - even as to what the behind-the-scenes moves should be - openly, to Sweden's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Good thing that Schibbye and Persson were not in the environs of Tora Bora & giving succour to the enemy when the US was carpet-bombing the area for Osama - it would have been a sorry case of collateral damage caused by being in the wrong place at the right time....

In this case of right versus wrong, the two journalists are not official representatives of Sweden or Swedish policy. Their best bet is the cover story about investigating the effects of Lundin Oil...


In the given circumstances - considering their association/activities with Ogaden National Liberation Front at the forefront as their main activity in Ethiopia, all said and done, they can tell the authorities how much they love Ethiopia and express how terribly sorry they are because all we can appeal for is a goodwill gesture from the Ethiopian Government - not about entitlements to freedom because we are such nice, innocent people....
20:22 October 17, 2011 by Truth liberates
Meles Zenawi in his last interview in Norwey stated that he fought 17 years to come to power and he owes no one a favour. So from his long logic he was terrorist for 17 years and suddenly he became a statesman after he came to power. So ONLF just bear with those who label terrorists, becouse when you come to power you will be accorded the red carpet and called the new visionary leaders of Africa. having said that, Meles Knows only one language- that of the gun. he is not alone, all bullies exhibit that characteristic. if they feel a little weakness from you, you get the boot, else they leak your boots. If Sweden wants to get The two journalists to be freed immediately, let them just hint that they will give the budget allocated to Ethiopia to ONLF and the next day Meles Zenwi will be at their door begging for mercy.

Zenawi is ruling Ethiopia not because he is powerful, but because of the billions of Dollars that the West gives him in different disguises. Some people say that He has now new masters from China and India and he does not need the West anymore. That is a false argument. Meles may bluff a show of strenght, but he cannot different ONLF which gets next to Zero support from anywhere in the world. As for begging America to get something from Meles, that is pathetic and shameful. May the lord make Sweden see its power.
22:54 October 17, 2011 by Tony L
Not sure if geopolicy works so easy and why would US feel the need to help Swedem. Thought more of somebody who writes about Wallenberg.
23:36 October 17, 2011 by dawit
These individuals (journalists or terrorists) should be treated fairly not because they are Swedes or Afganis but because they are human beings. To all the Swedes who say "Stop aid..." we say to you. "Go to hell with it." You see, we believe in one God that treats all his children equally no matter what color or religion he belongs to. Don't think that you are special because you are not. I know these guys would have said the same thing if the guy who massacred so many people in Norway a few months ago, Had he done it in Africa rather than in Oslo. No matter how much a country is developed, you won't miss pathetic individuals whose brains have ceased to think objectively.
23:59 October 17, 2011 by jostein

So, if we are all equal, can we have some of that aid back then? I mean, one side giving, the other side taking, all the time the same way, how is that equal?
09:51 October 18, 2011 by absol
@ jostein

Do u mean it makes we unequal? or u believe that the poor are less human than rich?
10:43 October 18, 2011 by Munir Ahmed
U.S. does not support journalists who work with terrorists...And Michela Wrong is not an "Africa expert," just another journalist who is always wrong, like her last name.

Ogaden (ONLF) Islamic terrorist cold-blooded massacre record, ignored by $$$ hungry Swedish reporters, and rest of White media...Racist double standard.




14:10 October 18, 2011 by Opinionfool

"You see, we believe in one God that treats all his children equally no matter what color or religion he belongs to."

Exactly who is this "we" you are talking about. And who is this "one god" too? Until you identify the latter don't presume that you and I are in the same group.

And does *your* one god really treat all created people the same? Just one example, it treats the Ethopian who is dying of malnutrition the same way as the over-fed western European? Or treats that over-fed European the same as the obese American? Or the obese American like the starving Ethiopian?

And even if that one god does treat all the same and if they are made in the image of that god individuals may have marred their representation so much that they have forfeited any claim to its help.
15:31 October 18, 2011 by B Slick
The US could help in this situation but since the US does not have the "pull" that they once had on the world stage it could end up be a negitive imput.
20:36 October 18, 2011 by dawit

Sure, Take Your aid back. Anyways for every dollar you claim to give, Only about 7 cents is what reaches the poor. The other 93 percent is wasted in bureaucracy. You are a prime example of what I said "pathetic individuals whose brains have ceased to think objectively" You may be giving money and the Saudis (Jihadists are doing that too) but that does not entitle you or the Jihadists to school us.


When I say we, I mean"Ethiopians" (Christians and Muslims alike) we believe in One God (Allah) the omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent. Some of you think God is some white man favoring whites. My friend, I am not saying you and I are in the same group apart from the fact that we are both humans (may be). What I wanted to convey is, this case should not be treated differently just because the accused are Swedes. I am for fair justice no matter where their origins are. And I believe in GOD that sees all his children the same way. If one is over-fed or starved in this world does not really mean much looking at it holistically.
23:43 October 18, 2011 by Asielue
can someone please tell me how many Africans who are in jail all over EU,EEC and US. Who ever talks about them..........they serve up to 10years in jail and after be deported.I am aganist jailing innocent people but our world is full with injustices.
19:54 October 19, 2011 by Opinionfool
@dawit It is doubtful that Christians believe that Allah is the same God. Christians claim for their God the same attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, benevolence) but add much more including but not exclusively that God is father ---- a name and attribute unknown to Muslims. Not one of the 100 names for God in Islam is father! And that omission goes to the heart of your assertion that it doesn't matter that many people in the world are literally starving to death. Because it does indeed matter enormously.

Now you and I are in agreement that the nationality of the people imprisoned does not matter, in the same fashion that it does not matter that Swiss people not Swedes died in a plane crash yesterday nor that there were English people on it too --- a fact overlooked in The Local's xenophobic report.

And as Asielui rightly points out there are Africans and other nationals imprisoned all over the EU and other western countries. Most of them have recourse to law ... unless they are banged up in Guantanamo Bay on some pretext of a weakling regime.
20:29 October 20, 2011 by dawit

I am a christian and can not argue about what God is for the muslim's ..... but as an Ethiopian christian, I know that Muslims here have pretty much the same value as Christians. What I see is that they believe that God is kind, forgiving and treats everyone of his children the same. Other than that I agree with your recent post.
09:09 October 21, 2011 by rise
@ dawit

Some people reads the bible or the quran when they want to get away from reality, drift away with some fantasy. But personally I think they're so outdated and frankly boring. I'd recommend reading something written by Robert Jordan instead. For example he was writing on the nothing but fantastic The Wheel of Time, a series of epic fantasy novels. Or why not go for the well known The Lord of the Rings?
13:27 October 21, 2011 by MC7669
Sweden should from the Israelis.......1027 pure kriminals Terrorist with jewish blod on their hands....blod of children, woman, men enjoying life in coffeshops and shoping malls kill during the years 2001 to 2006........ 1027 Terrorist that sware to continue their terrorism activities for one young soldier Gilad Shalit ...byt they way Sweden should ask Israel if they want to get ride of the others that remain in prison and send them to Ethiopya....Menkell wake up men !!!!! way don't you organize a flotila to Ethiopya to release the 2 Swedish "Journalists"
13:38 October 21, 2011 by baragodo
Dear sirs

1.Do you know that Ethiopia has closed any diplomatic relation with sweden as of last year.we ethiopians do not need any diplomatic or what ever relation with swedes in Governmental level.

2.Do you know ethiopians are the first nation in the world to accept Islam even before soudi arabia.

3.Do you know ethiopia has accepted both the old testment and and new testment before the name sweden even exists.

4.Dou you know Ethiopians are the only black nation who havent exxperienced colonization.instead they are known to clonize most of the Arab land in earlly years.

5.Do you know ethiopia is the 3rd fastest growing nation in the netire world next to China and india

6......"No one will win a war with Ethiopians,no one actually did"...prime minister meles zenawi speech....

7.at the end of the day the country you all are talking about here is ethiopia whos name is mentioned in bible more than 50 times,the country Prophet mohammed told his folowers not to declare jihad on,the holly root of Zion.

Bribing Ethiopians has never worked and will never work....that is a soveriegn country for thousands of years and will continue being sovereign...we dont need sweden and every thing special about the(right of lebian,right of gay,.etc)
15:26 October 21, 2011 by kuzzza
This is what the Ethiopian Prime Minister had to say about Martin Schibbye and Jonas Persson: http://www.ethiotube.net/video/16099/PM-Meles-Zenawi-speaking-about-the-arrested-Swedish-Journalists--October-20-2011
16:59 October 21, 2011 by tadchem
'Sweden should ask for US help to free journalists jailed in Ethiopia'

Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it!
18:35 October 21, 2011 by Opinionfool

On your number 4, that isn't accurate is it? There was a period (1936 -- 1941) during which Ethopia was indeed colonised ... not by the Swedes but by the Italians.

As to your number 3 what do you mean by "accepted"? That they had copies of the text and read it like commenter rise suggests reading Robert Jordan? Or did they accept the content as being true ... in which case how do you reconcile that with your number 2?

On 5 aren't you shrinking a little since Eritrea ceded and became a separate country?

And as to your number 6 (as we all know "there is no number 6") the question should be "who would want to go to war against Ethopia? It has no oil or other significant natural resources that greedy western countries want."

For number 7 there's always the Rastafarians who held (hold) Haile Salassie to be a god, giving him the name "The Lion of Judah". And I\m sure there are many other countries in the Bible that appear more times in the text than Ethopia's 50 or so. That does not prove anything --- most of those mentioned were considered enemical to the Jewish people.

But in the end what have any of your points to do with whether Sweden should ask the US for help in getting these journalists released. At the moment your nation looks like the proverbial spoilt brat who takes his football away because he is losing the game.
00:05 October 22, 2011 by moali
Carl Bildt ignores totally what happening in Ogaden, The Ethiopian regime led by the East Afican #1 dictator Meles Zenawi unleashes widespread and vindictive ethnic cleansing campaign in the Ogaden.

The Ethiopian Army, fulfilling Meles Zenawi Callous call to punish the Ogaden people, has unleashed widespread ethnic cleansing campaign in the Ogaden. This practice has intensified since the dictator, Meles Zenawi, vowed to punish the Ogaden people for supporting the ONLF who are struggling for the rights of the Ogaden people to a genuine self-determination as accorded to the south Sudanese people.

The Ogaden has since been largely off limits to foreigners. The International Committee of the Red Cross was expelled from the region by the Ethiopian regime in 2008 after being accused of providing aid to the freedom fighters ONLF .

This ethnic cleansing campaign in Ogaden is all about the natural resources, Carl Bildt has a dirty business with Meles Zenawi through Lundin that´s why he doesn´t care the Swedish journalists, actually he prefers them not to come back to Sweden becuase they will tell the truth !

It´s not the first time that the Ethiopian regime arrested foreign journalists, in 2007 Jeffrey Gentleman from New York Times and two others went into Ogaden to discover the Genocide and make documentary about ONLF,The regime caught them with their cameras but fortunately he sent already all the video. The US government ordered Meles Zenawi to release the Americans as soon as possible without any delay ! I didn´t even take one week ! That´s what I call a real government becuase it stands beside its citizens.
06:21 October 22, 2011 by johnoleson
Just send in one of Sweden's highly trained, highly motivated, highly diversified, equally represented SWAT teams and rescue them. Would that work?
07:54 October 22, 2011 by rise
@ johnoleson

Of course Sweden doesn't have SWAT since it's an American unit. ;) Instead here are SSG, and SIG:

21:21 October 22, 2011 by BBKING
Again I wonder why people should not ask the question what if?. What if the so-called journalists were indeed involved in the terrorist activities for which they are convicted? What if they did ignore the immigration laws of Ethiopia which happens to be as sovereign a nation as Sweden? Does Sweden itself allow its journalists to be involved in terrorism or surpass the territories of other countries without legal documents? So what if we let the courts decide which is true or not? Is Swedish Law superior than Ethiopia's? Let's not rush to speculate over matters that seem so irrelevant such as the Ethio-US relations which for me is not at all an important issue here. The critical question to ask is whether justice is served or not. Neither the US nor any other country need to be considered as an ideal provider of justice to resolve the issue. Every country has it's own judicial structure which, although it may not seem palatable to others, needs respect. In addition, the writers argument of returning the favor to Sweden by the US is ridiculous and a kind of childish outcry. I rather see a feeble relationship between Ethiopia and Sweden as the main cause of this ordeal. A recently evolving lack of interest and neglect by both governments toward mutual cooperation in all endeavors is, in my opinion, the major hurdle to concentrate on and this should give a lesson to the top officials on both sides to learn for the future.
23:12 October 22, 2011 by johnoleson

Very thought provoking to wonder if the two are actually guilty. Would it be cynical to think Ethiopia might hold these two only because the two Swede's represent western civilization to Ethiopia? This is a foreign thought to our culture and sense of justice, but not to some non western cultures who have been dominated in the past by the West. On the other hand, "journalistic activities" in third world countries will always breed suspicion. What were the Swede's thinking?
01:02 October 23, 2011 by moali

You must be Tigrey, Meles Zenawi´s tribe becuase you´re defending this regime ! Let me tell you something ... the Swedish journalists were trying to report the Genocide in Ogaden that committed by the Ethiopian regime led by the Ethiopian trynant Meles Zenawi. The journalists are 100% innocent. Meles uses terrorism card to stay in power but soon or later he´ll end up like Gaddafi ! The people fed up him.
06:07 October 23, 2011 by BBKING

Western civilization entered Ethiopia a very long time ago and it is not at all new that people from the west visit Ethiopia for different reasons. Perhaps you may also happen to know that there is a large number of Swedes who are married to Ethiopians.

Trust me these two individuals would bring little "civilization" if none to the country than if they were engineers or doctors willing to provide a voluntary service.

@ Moali

I really admire your labeling me with absolute certainty as Tigre. You went on further to say the journalists are 100 % innocent. To say the latter you either have to be at the site where they were held captive or you should be a very close friend of these people and know that they are not capable of committing crimes. Let me make it clear for you that I did not say that they are guilty. Nor did I say they are innocent. This is for the court to decide. People who believe in equality of justice and the rule of law would not be sure of the journalists' innocence but will wait to see how the trial is conducted and look into the evidences at hand.

As for myself, I happen to be from the Orommo and Amhara tribe. If you are really concerned about my ethnicity I can give you a full detail of it upon request because I am proud of it.
09:54 October 23, 2011 by Lavaux
So America should risk future drone bases in Ethiopia and shell out millions to save two Swedish journalists who were writing a hit piece against an oil company. Sounds like an offer Democrats can't refuse! Best get the deal done by Nov. 2012, though.
16:52 October 23, 2011 by jgmouton
We should free the journalists living in our own countries as well.
12:23 October 24, 2011 by BritVik
One thing is for sure - journalists will always support journalists first and foremost. What about others who are imprisoned - i.e. non-journalists? As is most common, such people make about a 2 centimetre column article, whereas a journalist in prison somewhere rates several pages!!

As to politicians getting involved, they usually only make matters worse. At best it should only be the Foreign Office that makes approaches, or perhaps the head of state in due course. As is most common there are columns like this that rant and rave, and deride one another for lack of knowledge, common sense, etc. all to no avail.
21:56 October 24, 2011 by johnoleson
Dear jgmouton,

Do you mean free all the journalists held in Swedish prisons or just the Ethiopian ones?
11:08 October 28, 2011 by shahislam
facilitating peaceful global atmosphere for guaranteed but slow Cosmic-transition (automatic) to take place, abolishing permanently and forever by honest but open 'tit for tat': means the acts, perpetrators or mentalities of barbarian style: Somalian pirates, creating global public awareness by the only effective powerful tool of Western electronic Medias, through portable cheap digital devices, about the importance of learning how to discover human qualities in own individual and collective minds (to be used for humanity on this planet: the Earth without any kind of religious help of any of the religions) such as: forgiveness, tolerance, unselfishness, patience, generosity {e.g.: for changing the out of date: blasphemous laws that promote violence, killings (recently, one-the only Christian public leader of a piece of land in Pakistan became a victim: targeted after motivated by trivial non-sense beliefs of some negative dogmas or taboos and has been killed in the similar king-style: suppression of the past: when one could face ridiculously harsh sentences like death penalty for simply expressing one's artistic talents or own feelings love or hatred for present or past or future political or religious leaders with ferocious or questionably elusive personal characters etc. And such non-sense administration of laws are still in practice even in the higher courts of the civilized West)} joy of co-existence or sharing etc.. Probably that is why, recently in a Canadian TV broadcast, for the public interest, it has been clearly shown that an American female physician, for her personal safety, went into hiding in the mountains of the south after having close contacts with a mentally dangerous and unfailingly determined group of American individuals which, she believed, connected by name with: Vanderbilt University of USA, to have access to the World Health Organization's Vaccination program and have planned a massive slow dying or 'soft killings' of globally spread undesirable mankind, except its own race only through an easy, possible and undetectable method of contaminated injections. Such things explain why 'to be gradually borderless' ensuing 'public of better wisdom' in a liberated happy global atmosphere of one mixed culture, would inevitably feel uncomfortable about any type of gathering of voluntarily isolated groups of individuals wearing distinctive identical outfits or hair-coverings such as: bonnet, toque, turban, pieces of cloths to hide forehead, chin, beard etc.. For generating awareness only the good heads of the Western Governments have the power to use the highly effect electronic Medias in the appropriate direction.
02:45 October 29, 2011 by ye_hiwot
@Opinionfool, Your user name, 'Opinionfool' explains you very well. Your hate towards particular society has made you blind to the facts or you must be very poor in history. 1936-1941 was a period of Ethiopia's occupation not colonization. This fact has been documented everywhere http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopia. Italy might have been a protectorate to your country, among others. Hard and bitter to swallow, the country is a cradle of mankind (Li, J. Z.; Absher, DM; Tang, H; Southwick, AM; Casto, AM; Ramachandran, S; Cann, HM; Barsh, GS et al. (February 2008). "Worldwide Human Relationships Inferred from Genome-Wide Patterns of Variation". Science 319 (5866): 1100-1104). Long live Ethiopia. Death to hatemongers!!
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Why this Russian developer is committed to helping refugees - with tech
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