The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today urged the authorities to drop accusations of terrorist activities leveled at five journalists including two Swedish reporters whose trial was due to start yesterday in Addis Ababa but was adjourned until 20 October 2011.
The arrests of the journalists have sparked widespread criticism from the IFJ European and African groups, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) as well as the Eastern Africa Journalists Associations (EAJA) which have all accused the Ethiopian government of waging a campaign of intimidation against independent media under the cloak of anti- terror legislation.
“No one will be fooled by these trumped up accusations which seek to disguise a vicious intimidation of independent reporting in Ethiopia,” said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. “It would be a terrible miscarriage of justice to follow through with these trials and we urge the authorities to dismiss the baseless charges and set our colleagues free.”
According to the Ethiopian National Journalists’ Union (ENJU), an IFJ affiliate, the Ethiopian Federal High Court First Criminal Bench on Tuesday adjourned until 20 October the trial of two Swedish journalists, photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, who are accused of entering Ethiopia illegally and working with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
The court ordered the postponement to allow their co-accused, two Ethiopians who are accused of being ONLF members, to seek legal representation. Three other Ethiopian journalists, Eskinder Nega, Webshet Taye and Rehyot Alemuan, who are also on trial for terror charges are expected to appear before the court in a near future, says the ENJU.
The FAJ and EFJ have condemned the arrest and accusations of the five journalists and called for their immediate release. The EFJ has denounced the trial of the two Swedish reporters as “a sham trial which breached international law.”
The IFJ and FAJ back EAJA’s position which has accused the Ethiopian government of a major crackdown on media following the arrests of the Swedish reporters and the three Ethiopian journalists who were detained last month.
“These arrests and accusations prove that press freedom is under threat in Ethiopia,” said Faruk Omar Osman, FAJ President. “But they also put in jeopardy the future of democracy and rule of law in the country. Our colleagues did not commit any crime to answer for in the Ethiopian judiciary system. The situation needs urgent remedial action from the government.”
The case of the two Swedish reporters has attracted international media attention and about 16 Swedish journalists attended the trial, according to ENJU. Some of them have been prevented from filming in Addis Ababa or had their equipment confiscated while leaving the hotel, media reports say.