December 21, 2011

Minister of Justice Berhanu Hailu
Ministry of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 7775/ 7755

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Seyoum Mesfin
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
P.O. Box 393
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 43 00

Federal Police Commissionner

Gebeyehu Workineh
P.O. Box 5718
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 551 12 13

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the news that Swedish journalists Johann Persson and Martin Schibbye have been found guilty of “supporting terrorism” by an Ethiopian court..

According to our information, Martin Schibbye, reporter for the Sweden-based news agency Kontinet, and Kontinet photographer Johan Persson were found guilty under anti-terrorism legislation and could face up to 15 years in prison. There are serious concerns about the fairness of the trial, which has suffered from political interference and the use of fabricated evidence. In October 2011, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi publicly accused the men of being accomplices to terrorism, and during a court session in November 2011, the prosecutor presented what he later admitted was doctored footage of Schibbye and Persson playing with rifles belonging to the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which had been designated a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government. The journalists were also denied translators during the trial.

Martin Shibbye and Johann Persson were arrested on July 1, 2011, after a clash between Ethiopian forces and the ONLF. They had crossed the border from Somalia without a visa, and were on an assignment to report on the alleged human rights violations committed by the Ethiopian military to protect the operations of Swedish oil company Lundin Oil. They were charged under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism legislation, which criminalizes any reporting deemed to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to groups and causes which the government considers to be “terrorist.” The legislation has been widely criticized as being vaguely worded and overly broad.

PEN American Center believes that Martin Schibbye and Johann Persson have been arrested and charged solely in relation to the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights; Ethiopia is a signatory of both instruments. We protest their unfair trial, in which political interference and fabricated evidence were prominent, and call for their immediate and unconditional release.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical matter.

Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Mr. Tesfaye Yilma
Chargé d’Affaires
Embassy of Ethiopia to the United States
3506 International Drive NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 587-0195

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