The international media’s reaction on the verdict of the two Swedish journalists of supporting a terrorist group has been frenzied and largely censuring both the trial and finding of an Ethiopian high court. Time framed the account as a deplorable decision on its website. Huffingtonpost.com took identical stance on the story with Time. In Britain telegraph opted to focus on the demand of the Sweden government to release the journalists. Both Aljazeera and Christian Science Monitor estimated the sentence on the pair to be up to 15 years which is expected to be handed next week while many other media outlets took it up to 20 years.
Meanwhile only a handful of Ethiopian local media grabbed the story with a report of a greatest precautious detachment. The Amharic version of “The Reporter” wrote the verdict excluding any of the remarks made by any of international human right, press watch dog organizations and of course Swedish diplomatic community. Sheger FM is another local radio that approached the story with preventative measure of any sort of repercussion. Actually they had good reason to be cautious as they are vulnerable of being indicted of supporting terrorism because at present Ethiopia has accused more than ten journalists on the bases of litigious anti-terrorism law.
However Ethiopian exiled journalists and the online Ethiopian public are free from such apprehension of being indicted and write about this complicated and prolonged case of Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye. Apparently the major Ethiopian exiled online media; Addis Neger, brought the bona fide remarks of many Ethiopians to the world’s attention immediately after the court ruled the verdict. In breaking the news Addis Negers wrote on their facebook page:
“The Kangaroo court in Addis Ababa ruled this morning that the two Swedish journalists are guilty of supporting terrorist organizations. According to the draconian “Anti-Terrorism” law of Ethiopia, “encouragement of terrorism” is punishable by a rigorous imprisonment of 10-20 years”.
Many of the comments followed this facebook update of Addis Neger have largely backed Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye to get released and demanded the Swedish government to take hard line stance on Ethiopian government and pointed the finger of blame at the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his cronies.
Abiye Teklemariam, journalist who himself is being prosecuted in absentia with terrorism charges believes the unlucky capture and trial of Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye is pinpointing that if the Ethiopian government treats foreigners from donor countries badly, it treats locals even worse. He reacted on the decision of the panel of judges and their unanimous verdict after he quoted the statement of the middle man of jury, Shemsu Sirgaga
….“They have not been able to prove that they did not support terrorism,” [judge] Shemsu said, speaking in Ethiopia’s Amharic language….”Since they were caught with (ONLF) rebels we find it difficult to believe they only came to find that information.”
Abiy wrote “Is it conceivable that these judges have an even touristic knowledge of criminal law? Nauseating!”
Further damage to already damaged reputation of journalists’ treatment
In their reporting many international media organization made a reference of Ethiopian authorities’ bad reputation of journalists’ treatment and this could only broaden the already damaged reputation of Ethiopia. CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes was quoted by many international media saying “We have reached a seminal point, which unfortunately we hit in the 2005 post-election crisis,” Furthermore Amnesty International’s Ethiopia researcher Claire Beston highlighted that “The sheer numbers of arrests and prosecutions this year indicate a systematic crackdown, a systematic dismantling of the last few independent voices,”
Indeed, I have been also 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.
Estimate on the pair’s sentences
Months before the verdict has been handed dawn to the journalists the international media has been guessing what would happen to the Swedes. Now the journalists are officially declared guilty of supporting terrorism on 21 December, much of the international media are already reporting the journalists could face up to 20 years in prison when they are sentenced on December 27.Now, the failure of Swedish government to oblige the Ethiopian government has become a dominant theme. Kiflu Hussain,a notable human right defender and writer said
””Silent diplomacy” failed. The Westerns along with the Swedes themselves who are merciless on the likes of Mugabe & Afwerki,cannot save the two Swedish journalists from their favorite dictator, Meles Zenawi.Apparently,the conviction by the Kangaroo court leads to long term incarceration. But I bet they’d be released soon since Zenawi always has something up his sleeve with this sort of “internationally “publicized cases. The question’s; would the Swedish journalists be sworn in to silence from speaking out against prison conditions in Ethiopia or would they disparage Zenawi’s regime like those Americans did after being pardoned by Tehran?”
However in a statement, Mr Reinfeldt does not agree with such views and said Sweden viewed the convictions in a very serious light and was already making high-level contact with the Ethiopian government to secure their release.”Our position is and continues to be that they were in the country on a journalistic assignment. They must be released as soon as possible in order to be reunited with their families in Sweden,” wrote BBC citing an official statement of Sweden Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Regardless of the upcoming sentence 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.