There will be no more updates on this website.
This site was in use during the court process with the purpose to facilitate for anyone who wanted to know more about the case. Here you can find some overall information about Johan and Martin and facts, links and highlights in connection with the case. The court case is now closed and therefore no more updates will follow.
Through their relatives, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye send a New Year Greeting: Thank you, everyone who is following our case. Your support keeps us strong. Enjoy your freedom and take care. Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson.
An Ethiopian court, on December 27th 2011, sentenced Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye to 11 years in prison on charges of unlawful entry into Ethiopia and support of terrorist activity. Amnesty International has pronounced the two journalists as prisoners of conscience.
The international community strongly criticized the verdict. Representatives from the United States and the EU, shortly after the sentence, expressed their grave concern. The Swedish government and department of foreign affairs continue in their effort to secure the release of Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye as soon as possible.
The Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson do not appeal against their jail sentence. Instead they have decided to put theirs hopes in the Ethiopian tradition of pardon and forgiveness. Schibbye and Persson was arrested in Ethiopia, July 1, 2011 after they on journalistic purposes, entered the Ogaden province.
In the afternoon in January 10th came the news that Schibbye and Persson decline to appeal the ruling which resulted in 11 years' imprisonment. The two convicted charges are, promotion of terrorism and illegal border violation. Schibbye and Persson waited until the last minute to announce the waiver of appeal, according to their contact Anna Roxvall, it was to give the prosecutor as little space as possible to appeal.
Schibbye and Persson hopes are now on the Ethiopian tradition of pardons. Similar cases of clemency processes, have been taken 2-2.5 years from sentence to release, but then it have been Ethiopian citizens.
"Because it`s about foreigners for the first time, I think it will go faster. I guess the authorities have an interest to release them as soon as possible, to avoid all the focus and negative criticism of Ethiopia", Ethiopia expert Kjetil Tronvoll said to SVT.
Jesper Bengtsson, president of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders says that the decision were expected, it would take years to appeal.
"This is now a very distinct political process. It has been political before, but now it’s leaved the law completely. Then it becomes even more important for Carl Bildt and the government to spend all their energy on this case", Jesper Bengtsson said.
Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were sentenced on 27 of December to 11 years in prison. “This sentence should satisfy the goal of peace and stability,” Judge Shemsu Sirgaga said.
Defence lawyer Abebe Balcha said he could not accept the sentence and would consult with his clients about the possibility of an appeal.
“What are the Ethiopian authorities hoping to achieve?” the international press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders asked. “To discourage anyone from visiting the Ogaden, as these two journalists did. To send a warning signal to the national and international media about the danger of receiving a long jail sentence on a terrorism charge if they attempt any potentially embarrassing investigative reporting.”
Jesper Bengtsson, the president of Reporters Without Borders’ Swedish section, added: “We regard this sentence as deplorable even if it did not surprise us after last week’s decision by the court to find them guilty.”
Reporters Without Borders is outraged that the court today found Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye guilty of supporting terrorism, a charge for which the prosecution has requested a 13-year jail sentence. They are also facing an additional sentence of five and a half years in prison on a charge of entering the country illegally, to which they pleaded guilty. The court is expected to issue a sentence next week.
“This verdict is absurd and demonstrates the stubbornness of the Ethiopian authorities. Instead of proving their guilt, the judge accuses them of failing to prove their innocence. This is back-to-front. Since the first day of the trial, the defence position has been very clear: Persson and Schibbye entered the Ogaden illegally for the purposes of reporting, but they never supported terrorism.” says, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard.
Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were convicted for terrorist crime. Their profession was a cover for terrorist activities, according to the judge. The verdict was announced on the morning of December 21.
The two Swede’s announced convicted on both charges, unlawful entry in Ethiopia and terrorist crimes. The judge believes that the prosecutor proved Schibbye and Person’s guilt of involvement with the ONLF guerrilla, that are blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government. The judge has in a statement said that the two Swedes' used his profession as a cover to go the terrorists' case '
”According to Reporters Without Borders assessment, there is no evidence that Martin and Johan supports ONLF. And they must be released immediately and unconditionally” says Jesper Bengtsson, president of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders.
The defense will be able to rely on mitigating circumstances.
”Unfortunately, it is probable that they are adjudging to a long prison sentence. Either they seek pardon or appeal. The decision must be theirs, and I assume that the Swedish embassy in Addis give them all possible help during the process” says Jesper Bengtsson
The punishment will be announced on 27 December. The prosecutor urged that the Swedes should be sentenced to the maximum penalty, which he said is between 15 and 18.5 years.
”The Swedish government must step up the work for Johan and Martin. Foreign minister Carl Bildt, have to become clearer. The quiet diplomacy that he always leaning against has not worked. Bildt must require that they be released now” says Jesper Bengtsson.
The war correspondents Adrian Blomfield and Phillip Ittner witnessed on 7th of December in the trial against Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye with the purpose to describe the art of journalistic work. The trial became a discussion of journalistic ethics and the evidence of their mission in Ethiopia.
– Most importantly is to be a neutral observer, speaking with all sides and dont get emotionally involved. I have never met the prosecuted but I have seen their reports and they seem to be professionally made with high standards, says Blomfield.
Blomfield, as other witnesses, said that sometimes you have to enter the prohibited areas in order to tell a story. Blomfield has done this he says. But he also points out the distinction of being employed, as himself, and working as a freelance.
– Freelancers often go to minor conflicts, there no other journalists are. I would go there also, if I were a freelance, says Blomfield.
After Blomfield`s hearing the enquiry went over to Ittner that defines ethics of journalism.
– To provide objective information and truth, says Ittner.
He says that he is doing what it takes to get a story out to the public, but withoutbecoming involvedwithany groups.
After the two witnesses' interrogation the Ethiopian lawyer shows a video, it starts with a Skype call from a hotel in Nairobi on 8 June. The two defendants, Schibbye and Persson, are planning their reportage. In the video John mentions both Africa Oil and ONLF guerrillas.
– They are obscene in their way they deal with human life, says Johan about the ONLF-guerrilla in the video.
Martin also says in the film, that the reason they came illegally was because they had planed to do so, and it was the best way to get in to Ogaden.
The closing argument in the trial will be held on 21 December. It is unclear if the sentence will be announced at the same time, or after Christmas.
Witness interrogations with Mattias Göransson, Chief Editor of the magazine Filter, and Magnus Laupa, owner of the Kontinent Photo Agency, started on the afternoon of the sixth December in Addis Ababa.
The prosecutor first state that Mattias Göransson has been in Ethiopia since the summer and therefore should be disqualified as a witness.
– I've never been to Ethiopia, I arrived yesterday, said Göransson to the judge.
He continues telling the court that the imprisoned Swedes came to Ethiopia because of a Swedish company that are working in the country.
– The last time I heard from them was when they gave me a call in June, it was a short conversation where they told me they were late to cross the border and that they needed more "guys with guns", said Göransson.
He says that it is not uncommon for journalists to entering forbidden areas; instead it’s a fact.
– As long as it's part of the story, even if it includes guerrilla groups, of course you should report on it, said Göransson.
Questioned about connection to terrorism Göransson responds, that the purpose to look for facts never changed during their trip.
The judge also asks if Martin and John couldn’t asked for permission to make the report.
– If you release Johan and Martin, I will ask them on their behalf, Göransson answered, according to the magazine Omvärlden, the judge gets offended and said he will not tolerate provocation.
The prosecutor asks the next witness, Magnus Laupa how he sets himself to terrorist stories.
– It was never their purpose to do, he replies.
The focus during the hearing is whether Lundin Oil are the Swedes' angle of their stories, despite the prosecution of terrorism.
The prosecutor asks if Lundin Oil rapes women in Ogaden.
– I can not speculate on it, says Laupa.
Swedish lawyer Thomas Olsson is satisfied after the day.
– As a defender, you can just like when the questions are about anything apart from the indictment, says Olsson.
Ambassador Jens Odlander says, that he relies on the defence and think it’s will go well.
The reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson presented for the first time theirs version during the ongoing trial in Ethiopia. The two states that "it was not about weapon training, insteadit was an ordinary day for a foreign correspondent," according to SR, The Swedish Radio.
Martin Schibbye speech lasted about an hour according to SVT, Swedish Television, and most of the time he talked about their journalistic mission. In 2010 Martin traveled 210 days in 16 countries.
– For example, I met traffickers in the Philippines but its not because I support them, but want to start a debate in my story.
He also talked about theirs arrest in Ethiopia.
- A chauffeur drove us 30-40 km in the country. Then we met 15-20 soldiers who we went with. All of us sat and drank tea when we heard a shot. Then there was a swarm of bullets.
Martin also thanked the Ethiopian soldiers for their professionalism and that none of them got seriously injured or killed.
Martin and Johan said they were convinced that they were working on an important story and had a unique scoop on time, according to Swedish Radio
– A unique revelation that would give breaking news in Sweden, because of the connection between the oil and Sweden, said the two Swedes during the trial.
Johan pointed out the importance of always working with armed guards on this kind of mission. The risk of kidnapping is otherwise too big. That they held the guards weapon in their hands was a way to break the ice with the guards, says Johan.
The guards were not members of the ONLF guerrillas, Martin and Johan had met them at the Hotel they stayed in Somalia before they entered the country.
– As a journalist you have to interview both good ones and bad ones, it was not about weapon training, instead it was an ordinary day at work for a foreign correspondent, says Martin and John.
In the afternoon, witness interrogations continue. In Ethiopia, there are dozens of Swedish media, but the difficulties in reporting from the trial are significant, according to SR.
The trial against Johan Schibbye and Johan Persson resume on 6 December in Adis Ababa, Ethiopia where they are accused of promoting terrorism. The false evidence previously presented by the prosecutor in court, has been withdrawn and has led to the heaviest charges, the participation of the terrorist group was dropped. But still the charge of promoting terrorism remains.
Before the trial resumed on Tuesday, the defense once again was denied by the prosecutor to take part of the evidence. This despite the fact that the judge promised the defense would take part of prosecution evidence several weeks ago.
In a letter submitted to the Ethiopian regime from the Swedish government, the question is raised if this are in accordance with the Ethiopian law to not submit evidence to the defense of a lawsuit. The Ethiopian government responded that they do not interfere in ongoing legal cases.
– This means that the judge owns the issue, said Sweden's ambassador in Ethiopia, Jens Odlander.
The two men who were said to be guerilla fighters for ONLF-guerrillas and sentenced to 17-years in prison for terrorism in the Swedes' trial, was of great importance for the prosecutor's evidence. The Swedes, however, deny that they had any connection with the condemned men. The first time they seen the men was the day after theirs arrest, when a reconstruction of the arrest was filmed by the Ethiopian military. The reconstruction video was cut together with the fake film that was presented as evidence by the prosecutor, where the sounds of shooting, among other things added on afterwards.
The men were convicted for taking the two Swedes in to the country, and this should link Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson to terrorist activities. However, foreign diplomats alarmed when neither of the two convicted had nothing to say in theirs defense and also looked relaxed and smiled when they received their punishment, which aroused suspicions that it was a fake trial.
– This unfortunately reinforces the suspicion that there is a political agenda behind this trial, in addition to the judicial process, says Swedes' lawyer Thomas Olsson to the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
However, will the defense not put any weight on this, as it seems pointless because of the two convicted have confessed. Instead, will the defense evidence that it was the Swedish connection to the oil company, Africa Oil, that made Martin and Johan broke into the Ogaden province. According to Thomas Olsson the most important thing now is to show that the Swedes weren’t there for publishing any propaganda for the guerrillas. Because that is what they are accused of there is a great possibility that they will be acquitted as long the court stick to the legal framework, state Olsson to DN.
To strengthen the Swedish journalist assignments, two international correspondents will testify on December 6. First, the American journalist, Phil Ittner, from Vioce of America and CBS as well as Adrian Broomfield from the UK's Daily Telegraph. The two will witness how the work looks for a journalist in conflict areas and that it is simply natural that journalists have contacts with guerrilla groups, without having sympathies with them.
In addition to the international journalists will also Mattias Göransson, editor of the Filter and Magnus Lauper on the photo agency Kontinent testify on Tuesday, to show that the two Swedes were there on assignment as reporters.
On Friday the 1st of July, photographer Johan Persson and news-reporter Martin Schibbye were arrested in Ethiopia by Ethiopian security forces. Persson and Schibbye had crossed the border from Somalia to Ethiopia in an attempt to report from the closed Ethiopian region of Ogaden. The purpose of the trip was to confirm information they had previous received from refugees, concerning human rights violations in the region and of the possible involvement of oil companies.
Their journalistic mission was to describe the complex situation in the region. They felt a duty towards their readers and as Swedish journalists they have a responsibility to look into human right issues all over the world, especially those that have a connection to Sweden. Both Persson and Schibbye have admitted they entered Ethiopia without visas, but they have denied all forms of terrorist allegations from the Ethiopian authorities.
On the 3rd of November, an Addis Ababa court dropped one of the charges against Persson and Schibbye - specifically, the charge pertaining to the participation in terrorist activity. The journalists nonetheless continue to be tried on charges of supporting a terrorist group and entering Ethiopia illegally.
"What happens now is not only important to us, our families and media colleagues – but to everybody who cares about freedom of press and of human rights." says Martin and Johan from the Kality prison, a few kilometres outside of Addis Ababa.
International representatives for organizations working with Freedom of Press have raised concern and demanded the release of Johan and Martin, stating: “These journalists should not be detained for seeking to cover an under-reported story,” said Africa consultant Tom Rhodes from Committee to Protect Journalists.
“These journalist were only trying to do their job, reporting on a conflict which is not well understood outside the Ogaden region” said European Federation of Journalists President, Arne König. “It is the duty of journalists to provide independent and impartial information which requires access to the location.”
"According to the analys by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the evidence put forward by the defence in court clearly shows that they are journalists," concludes Swedish Ambassador in Ethiopia Jens Odlander. "
This has been our assumption the entire trial, and we now regard this as proven also in court."
"Johan and Martin have admitted to crossing the border illegally. We think it reasonable that they are found guilt on this charge, but on this charge only" said Odlander.