Woubeshet Taye, Reyot Alemu, Eskinder Nega, Sileshi Hagos and at least four others have been ignored in the “fog” of an attentive international media reporting and social media driven public relations campaign to free two imprisoned Swedish journalists; Martin Schibbye & Johan Persson whose verdict is expected to be concluded on 21 December 2011.
Indeed, I have been chronicling the case of Martin Schibbye & Johan Persson and the general context in which Ethiopian journalists are operating since the trial Martin Schibbye & Johan Persson has begun in Addis Ababa in October. My reporting has included analyses of how the Ethiopian media both private and government media is covering court proceedings; how David Isaac, Eritrean-Swedish, was reported in Ethiopia’s media and the state of freedom of expression in Ethiopia such as continues brandish of arrests and accusations of journalists and opposition leaders. These malaises are most visible in Ethiopian media landscape since the ratification of the contentious anti-terrorism proclamation in 2009 which lead to the closure of independent newspapers, accusations, detentions and kicking out of journalists and bloggers out of their country.
Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were pleaded not guilty in an Ethiopian court on Thursday to terrorism charges after they were caught with allegedly fighters of an outlawed rebel group called ONLF in the country’s Ogaden region last July.
In the rigorous Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson media coverage, eight other Ethiopian journalists — whose similar made up terrorism charges — has disappeared from most of the views of major international news media organization with the exception of handful news media organizations that have tried to shed light on cases of the Ethiopian journalists in light of the Swedish journalists.
“The world barely noticed these politico-criminal dramas in one of the west’s closest African allies – until the unfortunate arrest and trial of two Swedish journalists. Good news? Well, a useful rule of thumb is that if the Ethiopian government treats foreigners from donor countries badly, it treats locals even worse.” wrote Abiye Teklemariam Megenta who himself is being prosecuted in absentia with terrorism charges in his latest article on opendemocracy.net
The international news media coverage of the cases and the campaign on social media has been so effective so far and managed the international community to think of the defendants as highly- respected investigative journalists with wide-ranging experience in taking assignments in all over the world.
Sweden’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Jens Odlander, pointed out many journalists with the similar experience of the defendants has offered to be a professional witness, and two have flown to Addis Ababa. “Something very impressive is happening,” Odlander told for international news media in Addis Ababa. “We had a mail sent out to a few contact people we know about, some journalists, and they forwarded it to maybe 800 plus foreign correspondents, mainly from Anglo-Saxon countries, and we had at least 20 people who were ready to come and witness, and very many people told us they would write a story about this case.”
It is apparent that his comments come in the mildest of the high coverage of the trial on Wednesday and Thursday by the international media. “A British and an American war correspondent called as expert witnesses by the defense appeared in court on Wednesday, telling the court that entering a country illegally for reporting purposes is a work method commonly used by journalists in conflict zones”, reported Aljazeera.com. “Ethiopian Court Mulls Journalists’ Role in Conflict Zones” writes VOA in its English news website.
Regardless of the upcoming verdict Martin Schibbye & Johan Persson would thank their colleagues all over the world for keeping them at the center of global media attention. It is evident that the Swedish media and journalists all over the world have done a huge public relations campaign to free them.
In contrast, coverage of Ethiopian journalists locked up for terrorism charges though it is significant it is not as intensified as it should be. And Ethiopia’s local media gives insignificant attention for the matter ether. I never come across a single news, feature or commentary on Ethiopian government media regarding the cases of both accused Ethiopian and Swedish journalists.