Ethiopia News: Swedish journalists appeal to Prime Minister Zenawi for pardon

There are 3,372 … now 3,374 signatures and counting that ask for the release of Swedish journalist Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson, both serving 11-year prison sentences in Ethiopia.

The signature campaign is quickly amassing worldwide support.

In July 2011 the two journalists were arrested alongside Ogaden National Liberation Front rebels, a separatist group of Somali nationalists, in Ethiopia's Ogaden region. On Dec. 27, 2011 the investigative journalists were convicted for "entering the country illegally and supporting terrorism." 

More from GlobalPost: Ethiopia court finds Swedish journalists guilty of supporting terrorism

Their sentencing is part of a continued movement, precipitated by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government, to suppress opposition reporting within Ethiopia. According to a report by Amnesty International, "There has been a sustained crackdown on members of political opposition parties and journalists [since] 2011."

Just last month, Elias Kifle, editor of the Ethiopian Review, was sentenced to life in prison. Luckily, he left Ethiopia years earlier and now is in exile in Washington.

Part of the government's bully tactics come in the form of an anti-terrorism law, ratified in 2009, that allows the government to curb freedom of expression in the name of national security. It is this law that provided the legal precedent used to sentence Schibbye and Persson.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says the "law criminalizes any reporting authorities deem to 'encourage' or 'provide moral support' to groups and causes the government labels as 'terrorists.'" 

Though acquitted of the charge to commit acts of terror — a sign that things are moving in the right direction — Schibbye and Persson have decided not to fight their 11-year convictions and have appealed to Prime Minister Zenawi for a pardon instead.

“In Ethiopia, there is a long tradition of pardons and we have chosen to leave it to this tradition,” they said from inside Addis Ababa’s Kality prison. 

Between the inclusionary anti-terrorism law and tough attitude of Prime Minister Zenawi the two journalists need all the help they can get.

Now there are 3,379 signatures.   


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