Persson (Kontinent)
Persson (Kontinent)

Ethiopia detains two Swedish journalists

New York, July 5, 2011Two Swedish journalists reporting on the activities of armed separatists operating in an oil-rich province of eastern Ethiopia have been detained without charge since Thursday in the Horn of Africa nation, according to news reports and government officials.

Ethiopian security forces arrested photojournalist Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, contributors to the Sweden-based agency Kontinent, along the border with neighboring Somalia, government spokesman Bereket Simon told CPJ.

The journalists had been embedded with Ogaden National Liberation Front rebels who had come under attack by government forces, said Simon. Persson, 29, was wounded in the hand and Schibbey, 30, in the shoulder during the fighting, according to news reports. The two received medical treatment under police custody in the border city of Jijiga, Swedish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Cecilia Julin reported.

Persson and Schibbey were moved from Jijiga to the capital, Addis Ababa, this evening and were expected to appear in court in the near future, Simon added. In a report, the Ethiopian government-controlled broadcaster claimed that security forces killed 15 rebels and captured six others, including the journalists, in the raid.

Simon alleged the two journalists had crossed over the border from Somalia without accreditation. CPJ research shows that Ethiopia has blocked independent access to the Ogaden, a Somali-speaking region that has been home since 1984 to a low-level insurgency. Last month, the Ethiopian government formally categorized the Ogaden National Liberation Front as a terrorist group under the country’s sweeping anti-terrorism law, which construes any reporting the government deems favorable to a terrorist entity as a criminal offense.

Persson has worked with Kontinent for five years and has covered many dangerous assignments across the globe, including stints in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, colleague Jacob Zocherman told CPJ. Schibbey, an experienced reporter, has written many human rights-related stories, including a series of reports on human trafficking in Asia, Zocherman said. Both are professional journalists with no affiliation to the rebel groups. Kontinent has gathered all of the two journalists’ work as proof of their colleagues’ professionalism, Kontinent Picture Editor Martin Laupa told CPJ.

“These journalists should not be detained for seeking to cover an under-reported story,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “The Ethiopian authorities must release them immediately.”

With the arrests of Persson and Schibbey, eight journalists are behind bars in Ethiopia, making the country the second worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, according to CPJ research.

Persson and Schibbey follow other international journalists arrested for attempting to report on the Ogaden conflict, according to CPJ research. Journalist Heather Murdock was expelled in 2010 while reporting near the Ogaden, while a crew from The New York Times was expelled in 2007 while reporting in the region.