Journalists arrested while working in Ethiopia have been charged with terrorism

Last week two freelance Swedish journalists, who were on assignment in  Ethiopia, were officially charged with terrorism after being arrested early in July.

Photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye were arrested after entering the restricted Ogaden region with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a rebel group opposing the Ethiopian government. Fighting between the ONLF and the Ethiopian troops while the journalists were traveling with the rebel group. Six people including the journalists were injured and 15 rebels were killed in the fighting.

Under regular Ethiopian law, detainees are supposed to be charged within 72 hours of arrest, but under the anti-terrorism law the journalist were able to held for up to four months without being charged of a crime, according to Ethiopian government spokesman Shimelis Kemal. 

The two journalists finally appeared in court last week along with two Ethiopian members of ONLF. All four men were leveled with the terrorism charge. The Swedes also face charges of “abetting and rendering professional assistance to terrorists” and “entering into a sovereign state without a valid visa or lawful permission,” said Kemal. The maxim sentence for the charges under Ethiopian law is life in prison.

The Swedish worry about the charges against the journalists.

“The two journalists were on spot on a journalistic mission and we have not had reason to question their claim,” Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson Anders Jorle told AFP by telephone from Stockholm.

“It is worrying us that the case has been brought to a charge against the journalists.”

The international press freedom watchdogs have also come out against the arrests.

Should journalists have the freedom to associate with risky people and travel to restricted areas in order to cover a story?


3 Comments on “Journalists arrested while working in Ethiopia have been charged with terrorism”

  1. dsulmers says:

    This story, and other stories like it make me cringe. These types of stories shed a bad light upon Africa and its countries. Journalists should be able to travel and tell stories as they wish without having to live scared on their job. Terrorism is such an extreme charge and to put it on and it should only be applied to certain people, not journalists.

    DeeDee S

  2. jouralists should hve the freedom to travel where a story needs to be told. reading storiies like this makes me realize more and more the restrictions journalists have and how brave some of them are to risk so much to shed light on important issues.

  3. sutlive2 says:

    by Samuel Sutlive

    If a politically unstable area is labeled and announced restricted then Journalists should apply extreme caution. The choice to go into a restricted area where the government is oppressive could be considered an ethical decision. How far is the journalist willing to go to give readers new and real information?

    The two Swedish Journalist, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, who were arrested and charged as being terrorists in Ethiopia sounds a little more detailed then crossing a restricted zone or line.

    I looked up the article: Sweden’s Bildt under fire over reporters held in Ethiopia by AFP in October 17, 2011 on the Capital FM News( This article discusses how the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt did not act immediately to denounce the arrest of Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye according to the AFP (

    Bildt was a Board member of Lundin Petroleum, a Swedish oil group from 2000 to 2006 according to the AFP (

    The Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were investigating a group that was connected to Lundin Petroleum aaccording to the AFP (

    Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were investigating human rights violations by The Ethiopian Military to protect oil companies like Lundins against the terrorist group gaden National Liberation Front (ONFL) according to Swedish Reports(

    Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were two terrorist messenger boys at the very least said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi according to the Norwegian daily Aftenposten (

    The Ethiopian Prime Minister said “‘Why would a journalist be involved with a terrorist organisation and enter a country with that terrorist organisation, escorted by armed terrorists, and participate in a fighting in which this terrorist organization was involved? If that is journalism, I don’t know what terrorism is.’” According to the Norwegian daily Aftenposten(

    “According to the press freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most restrictive countries for media,” said the Norwegian daily Aftenposten(

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