Jailed Swedish journalists tried as terrorists

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The trial for two Swedish journalists being tried for terrorism in Ethiopia began yesterday. The freelance journalists were arrested after entering from neighboring country Somalia without permission. They allegedly aided a terrorist group and were wounded in a gunfight, in which 15 rebels were killed.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says the two imprisoned Swedish journalists "made their way into Ethiopia with a terrorist organization that had killed 70 people who worked for a mining company in an attack." He says "I think it would be a criminal relationship in any country".

If that is journalism, I don't know what terrorism is

—Meles Zenawi

"They are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists," the prime minister said. "Why would a journalist be involved with a terrorist organization and enter a country with that terrorist organization, 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," says Zenawi.

Swedish Foreign Minister Bildt is embroiled in allegations related to the case

The journalists were jailed after entering into Ethiopia's troubled Ogaden region to cover rebel activity in the area. Zenawi claims one of the journalists was arrested on a previous attempt to enter illegally. "The second time he was seized with a terrorist organization in combat."

The Swedes were found travelling with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and were investigating actions by a company with ties to Sweden's Lundin Petroleum, oil group, and claims of human rights violations in the Ogaden region.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has been criticised for inaction post-arrests. Kerstin Lundell, who wrote a book on Lundin in Africa, says "the fact that Carl Bildt has reason to hide what is going on in Ogaden could explain why these journalists are still in prison."

Bildt Lundin board member but left previous to the firm gaining an Ethiopian concession for oil exploration.

Journalist Anna Roxvall, who is acting as facilitator of the Swedish journalists says the claim that one of the journalists was arrested previously is wrong. "No, no, no. It is clean cut a lie", she says.

Sveriges Radio, Sveriges Television, TT and Dagens Nyheter journalists applied for visa to attend the trial but were originally denied entry to the country. Ola Larsmo, writer and chairman of the Swedish Pen says access to information will be restricted if Swedish journalists do not attend. Zenawi says "we do not need to Swedish journalists to prove that our courts operate in accordance with international standards."

Amongst the crowded court audience were eighteen Swedish journalists and several Western diplomats, including US ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Booth.

Voice of America says legal experts expect a quick resolution. The accused's lawyers claim a four-to-six month trial is likely. An unnamed attorney close to the trial has claimed a negotiated settlement is still possible. The two journalists face fifteen years in prison if convicted of engaging in terrorist activity. The trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow.