This article is not related to IP or entertainment law, however; as it has not been getting any press in the United States (and is an important issue regarding individual freedom and international freedom of the press) I wanted to share it with you.
I was talking with a good friend of mine recently who is a Swedish citizen and currently lives in Sweden. She informed me that she has a childhood friend that has been arrested in Ethiopia for terrorism.
Her friend is a Swedish reporter. He and a colleague went to Ethiopia to report on the Ogaden National Liberation Front; a small group that has been fighting for self-determination of the Ogaden area of Ethiopiaâs Somali region since 1984.
The two Swedish reporters facing terrorism charges in Ethiopia, pleaded not guilty, but apologized for having entered the country illegally.
Photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, both freelancers, have been held in jail since they were arrested on July 1 with Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels after a battle with government troops.
"I entered the country illegally without proper documentation, for this I am guilty, for this I apologize to the Ethiopian government," Schibbye told the court. "But I am not guilty to the charge of terrorism." Schibbyeâs colleague, Persson, also admitted to not having proper documentation. But he added: "My intention was to do my job as a journalist, to describe the fighting, nothing else."
An AFP reporter at the court said the Swedes, dressed in dark suits and ties, looked serious as they listened to the charges against them in the court room, which was packed with around a hundred people.
"Your honor, I am a Swedish journalist, my job is to gather news," Schibbye told the judge.
"We did not have any intention to collaborate with any group with interest to destabilize Ethiopia. For that we are not guilty."
The two were reportedly seen to smile at times to family members present in the courtroom, including Persson's father and Schibbye's wife, as well as to around 20, mainly foreign, journalists.
After being arrested in July while in the Ogaden region while in the company of the ONLF, the Swedes were charged last month with being engaged in terrorist activities, aiding and abetting a terrorist group, and entering the country illegally without permission, from neighboring Somalia.
Two fellow co-accused, Ethiopian ethnic Somalis suspected of being ONLF members also pleaded not guilty. However, these ethnic Somalis face the death penalty.
The legal team for the two reporters must be ready to present their defense next month, Judge Shemsu Sirgaga ruled earlier this month in the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa, the capital. Supporting terrorism, which includes providing moral support or giving advice carries a maximum jail term of 40 years under a 2009 anti-terrorism law.
The prosecution presented a video of footage of the Swedes after their capture with members of the banned Ogaden National Liberation Front. Part of the film showed the defendants handling firearms in an unidentified urban setting. Much of the sound on the video was inaudible to the court and there was no determination as to where or when the video was taken.
The two Swedes' defense lawyers said that they had yet to get to see the complete body of evidence, and that they need this to be able to defend the case in court.
"It is apparently a question of video clips, information from computers and memory cards. But the prosecutor said that these will be brought forward as the trial gets properly underway. The judge seemed happy with that," said DN reporter Thomas Hall, who was one of the reporters present in the courtroom.
The trial is expected to take between two and 12 months. If found guilty, the two Swedes could be facing up to 40 years in prison. I find it more than a little disturbing that this subject has not fond its way into the news in the United States. This is a serious challenge to journalistsâ ability to report on conflicts throughout the world.
There defense is a just cause and I encourage my readers to contact Hillary Clinton, the United States Secretary of State demanding that the United States bring its substantial influence to bear in favor of these unjustly accused journalists.