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Sweden looks to US, EU to help jailed reporters

AFP/The Local · 27 Dec 2011, 15:04

Published: 27 Dec 2011 14:10 GMT+01:00
Updated: 27 Dec 2011 15:04 GMT+01:00

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"We are continuing to work at all levels and on different tracks to ensure their liberation as soon as possible," Swedish state secretary for foreign affairs, Frank Belfrage, told the TT news agency, adding that the tracks included contacts with the United States and the European Union.

Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were arrested in Ethiopia's Ogaden region on July 1 in the company of rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) after entering Ethiopia from Somalia.

"We of course consider this sentence to be extremely serious," Belfrage said Tuesday, reiterating Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's position that Schibbye and Persson were in Ethiopia on "a journalistic mission."

An Addis Ababa court on Tuesday sentenced the pair to 11 years behind bars after they were found guilty last week of "supporting terrorism."

Johan's father, Kjell Persson, told AFP on the phone from Sweden that the trial had been difficult on the family.

"It was a tough time for us, but we met Johan four or five times and he's taken it well, it's good for us to see that," he said.

"Last Friday we met and they were in good shape, they said what happened on Wednesday was no surprise."

A small group of demonstrators gathered outside the Ethiopian diplomatic mission in Stockholm on Tuesday morning to protest the verdict.

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton voiced "serious concern" on Tuesday over the journalists' sentences.

Ashton "notes with serious concern the judgment and sentencing of the two Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson under the Ethiopian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation," her office said in a statement.

"Their sentencing on terrorism related charges raises concerns about the freedom of media and expression in Ethiopia," Ashton's office said, noting that the two were conducting research as journalists.

"While recognising the Ethiopian judicial process, we hope that the two journalists can be released as soon as possible," it said.

"The EU will continue to closely monitor this case and will continue our dialogue with the Ethiopian Government on press freedom and human rights."

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who has come under fire for not doing enough to help the pair, was on holiday and only briefly commented on his official Twitter feed by hailing EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's condemnation of the sentence.

"Good EU statement on sentencing of two Swedish journalists in Ethiopia. We wanted the voice of EU to be heard today," he wrote late Tuesday afternoon.

Swedish media revealed in September the pair was in the remote southeastern region of Ogaden, populated mainly by ethnic Somalis, to investigate the activities of a company affiliated to the Swedish oil firm Lundin Petroleum, which counted Bildt as a board member from 2000 until 2006 when he was appointed foreign minister.

The Swedish Union of Journalists condemned the jail term and called on Sweden to intervene.

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"It is obvious that this is a political sentence," the union's president Jonas Nordling said in a statement.

"Now the Swedish government has the heavy responsibility of resolving this at the political level," he added.

"The government must show that Sweden is doing everything possible to support and defend freedom of the press."

Both journalists had admitted contact with the ONLF and to entering Ethiopia illegally, but rejected terrorism charges, which included accusations that they had received weapons training.

Persson said their meeting the ONLF contacts had been for professional reasons only, as part of an investigation into the activities of Swedish oil company Lundin Oil.

The ONLF has been fighting for independence of the remote southeastern Ogaden region since 1984, claiming they have been marginalised from Addis Ababa.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

17:28 December 27, 2011 by Abe L
So they admitted to committing part of the crimes, then why would Sweden 'liberate' these people? If you don't want to end up in an Ethiopean jail, then don't travel to Ethopia and don't commit crimes there.
17:48 December 27, 2011 by Mb 65
Anybody that goes to these countries and commits any sort of crime deserve all they get.
19:17 December 27, 2011 by kynan
Just a typical Ethiopian dictator who sees journalists as rebels and their cameras as an improvised explosive device (IED)
19:23 December 27, 2011 by jostein
To me it seems they got a rather fair trial. And its not really strange that its illegal to cross the border in the company of armed guerillas. With the intent of producing anti government propaganda. I dont think this incident makes ethiopia lookes bad.
20:16 December 27, 2011 by J Jack
Just how are the USA or the EU supposed to help? Are they to do some dirty work because Sweden is neutral?
21:48 December 27, 2011 by Twiceshy
The West is learning the hard way times are changing. We'll see more incidents like this, until we learn not to stick our nose in others' business.
23:24 December 27, 2011 by DeadPrez
The keywords in this debacle are Swedish, Ethiopian and Somali. We are all so biased nowadays that we form our conclusion not on the case but on those three words(me included). U dont believe me? try replacing the last two with any other nationalities and see the hypocrisy.

P.s Didnt think swedes would be so biased as to pick others of their own.
00:55 December 28, 2011 by BBKING
The Ethiopian court just did what they have to do, stick to the rule of law and the constitution of a sovereign nation. We, the Ethiopian people made the law. We chose, through our representatives, the sentencing to be 11 or may be more years for crimes of terrorism and illegal entry as we did for the rest of the penal code. Swedish people may choose a lesser verdict in their own constitution, perhaps they are more enlightened than Ethiopians, lucky for them. It was rather unfortunate for the Swedish journalists to get involved in the middle of this freaking ordeal. But it so happened that they violated the LAW. So what on earth is wrong about this? This guys in fact may become enemies to the Ethiopian people in the future as the relations between Ethiopia and Sweden has already become rough thanks to their adventurous stunts. Try this in North Korea guys, and may be you would get killed right on the border and no one would bother to talk about them anymore.
01:27 December 28, 2011 by DeadPrez
P.s Didnt think swedes would be so biased as to pick others over their own.
04:28 December 28, 2011 by Dontgo
Sweden & Ethiopia have a Century long relationship with mutual respect and understanding. What the Swedish have to understand is to leave the rhetoric and recognize the National & Sovereign Rights of a Country--ETHIOPIA. And what the Ethiopians should consider is the good old past of the Swedish people, and show the good will of the Ethiopian people and play a Diplomatic role in this respect. I am sure the leaders of Sweden & Ethiopia would play a well crafted Diplomacy role in this respect.
08:32 December 28, 2011 by robban70226
Well f tey did te crime hey should do the time, simple, Should thre be different laws for Sweden aroud heworld?? Or they expect imunityfrom the law if they claim to be Jouralist? be real,!!
09:18 December 28, 2011 by Munir Ahmed
THOUSANDS OF BLACK AFRICANS languishing in Swedish immigration prisons for years, yet the amazing outrage when TWO WHITE SWEDES are arrested for illegally crossing Somali-Ethiopian border at night with monstrous Ogaden (ONLF) murderous terrorists, videotaping themselves laughing, shooting AK-47...Sick world!

BBC NEWS: 74 Chinese & Ethiopian oil workers machine-gunned asleep in bed


REUTERS NEWS: UN workers ambushed, killed, kidnapped

09:27 December 28, 2011 by Rebel
Maybe Sweden should turn to the Russians who have a lot more credibility in world affairs than the US or EU. If Ethiopia had oil then I suppose NATO could start a bombing campaign but as they are not an exporter then...
10:40 December 28, 2011 by Europaia
Rebel, you are wholly misinformed. There is a strong belief that Carl Bildt, Swedish Foreign Secretary, has done very little to thelp these two precisely because he is on the board of the Lundin Group, whose company Lundin Petroleum has very close relations with the Ethiopian government.

Was that serious about the Russians having credibility in world affairs or irony? Where do they have credibility?

As for the crime, sure, they were idiots and deserve a (suspended) jail sentence for illegal entry. But, most of the charges seem false, such as weapons training. If they didn't do that, then they shouldn't be jailed for that.
11:04 December 28, 2011 by jesseblu
Well now you chaps know that you can't just 'visit' other people's countries every time you've been eating magic mushrooms and wish to collect some plunder. or just got lost in space, you know how swedes behave on walkabouts with Addis Hash House Harriers:-)
11:24 December 28, 2011 by Frank Arbach
Sounds to me like 'First World' chauvinism against the 'Third World' (again)

If the Ethiopian government protested at the trial/imprisonment of Ethiopians in Sweden, they'd probably be told to 'get lost'. When the Ethiopians do the same to 'westerners' , its 'Hey: this isn't part of your script!'
13:31 December 28, 2011 by keros davido
I am sorry for them
13:54 December 28, 2011 by Markoo
It is really a sad news but also a good chance for us Ethiopian to show our pain for the world.


13:56 December 28, 2011 by keros davido
What would be the case if it were in the borders' of the united states? why don't we be fair and justice instead of accusing the Ethiopian government for protecting its constitution? why did they choose that route while they can investigate the situation in different ways. Why were they dismissed from the country while on a tourist in the country before they join the guerrilla rebels? They really deserve it anyway.
16:20 December 28, 2011 by Sheila Craig
No one suggesting we exchange a few thousand Ethiopians for the two journalists???? Plenty around here.
16:56 December 28, 2011 by salil
I think Sweden should directly talk to Ethopian Govenment instead of going through any channel
22:18 December 28, 2011 by Extraterrestrial
I am really wondering why this all fuss just because two men were jailed for doing something illegal (teaching rebels how to make the famous Swedish meat balls), I am not talking about the opportunist opposition politicians and asylum shoppers of Ethiopian decedents in Sweden.

@salil that is an interesting point!!!! There are many war criminals, torturers and red terrorists of the previous communist government in Sweden wanted by the Ethiopian people. Just pack and ship them in a metal container and you will see the two "journalists" jetting to Stockholm.
11:04 December 29, 2011 by Munir Ahmed

Mr. Schibbey used to be the editor for the magazine "Rebell", the official paper of "RKU", Sweden's Revolutionary Communist Party's youth organisation. Communism á la Marxism Leninism.

Mr. Schibbey and his comrades declared that Sweden only can be reformed by revolution, armed revolution if necessary, and that Stalin's murderous campaigns, terrors equalling Hitler's, were mere fabrications of the ruling class and thus untrue.

As for the concept of democracy, Mr. Schibbey and "RKU" proclaimed that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the ultimate form of democracy.

Obviously Mr. Schibbey deserves a fair trial; nonetheless it seems ironic that Mr. Schibbey now is on the receiving end of a totalitarian Marxist Leninist state's legal system.
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