July 7, 2011
The two journalists, Swedish photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, were detained by the Ethiopian government last Friday (1st July, 2011). They are contributors to the Swedish based Kontinent.
According to officials the two were arrested after an attack on 15 members of the ONLF, in the course of which both reporters were injured. However, the ONLF has denied these claims, countering that the reporters had not yet reached ONLF forces and that the four guides accompanying the journalists may have been executed in the process of the arrest.
The future of the journalists is currently uncertain. While it was initially stated that they would attend court on Tuesday, officials have since backtracked; the foreign ministry has suggested that they are being held without charge, and therefore will not be attending court until further notice.
The arrest of the journalists is just the latest in a number of arrests that are the result of Ethiopia’s strangling control of information from the Ogaden region. There are a number of journalists in detention in Ethiopia and according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ethiopia has the second worst record in sub-Saharan Africa on journalist detainment.
The most recent arrest shows the government’s desire to keep continued human rights violations by the Ethiopian military in the region from being exposed. In particular, the brutal counterinsurgency campaign against the ONLF, which was initiated in 2007, has been characterised by an indiscriminate policy of terrorising the people of the Ogaden.
According to numerous sources, including Human Rights Watch, the military stands accused of severe human rights violations in the region including executions, torture and rape of non-combatant civilians. Other reports have suggested that entire villages have been burned to the ground. There is also a continued economic blockade which restricts access to basic commodities and resources including water, exacerbating the effects of the country’s worst drought in years.
UNPO calls for the immediate release of the journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye. UNPO also condemns the current information blockade and strongly urges the Ethiopian government to allow entry of reporters, human rights advocates and humanitarian aid to the Ogaden region.
Click here to view a statement released by the UNPO General Secretary
Below is a statement from UNPO partner African Rights Monitor:
African Rights Monitor-ARM condemns the arrest and the illegal detention of the freelance journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye who were arrested on July 01, 2011 by the Ethiopian Forces in the Ogaden region. The two journalists took risk to fulfill their journalistic duties and to cover the dramatic human and social atrocities committed against the civilians in the Ogaden by the Ethiopian military. The Ethiopian government has sealed off the Ogaden region to international humanitarian NGOs, including human rights defenders and the international press to operate freely in the region.
African Rights Monitor-ARM calls upon the Ethiopian government to unconditionally free Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye and to lift the restrictions on the international press and allow NGOs to help the civilians ravaged by the war and famine.
African Rights Monitor (ARM) is a not-for-profit organization that was organized, and is operated, to monitor human rights violations in conflict and post-conflict African Territories. ARM seeks to increase global awareness of violations of human rights occurring in present day Africa, ARM believes that increased awareness of such violations can be accomplished through educating civil society groups through instructive workshops and seminars. In addition, ARM aims to monitor, investigate and expose human rights violations in Africa. ARM believes that increased awareness and publicity of human rights violations will serve as a powerful tool for advocating and safeguarding human rights in Africa.