The Swedish photographer and reporter sentenced to 11-year jail terms in Ethiopia last month are serving “in a a violent, disease-ridden place” where the inmates fight and sometimes cough up blood, according to a noted New York Times columnist.
The columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof, wrote about the plight of the two journalists over the weekend to draw attention to the tyranny and repression of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government. His report was based on an interview with the wife of the Swedish reporter, not his own first-hand account.
“[Reporter] Martin Schibbye, 31, and [photographer] Johan Persson, 29, share a narrow bed, one man’s head beside the other’s feet. Schibbye once woke up to find a rat mussing his hair,” Kristof wrote. “What was the two men’s crime? Their offense was courage. They sneaked into the Ogaden region to investigate reports of human rights abuses.”
The Ethiopian government has been battling insurgents in Ogaden, and has prohibited journalists from that region. Schibbye and Persson were caught traveling in the region last summer with opposition fighters. They were convicted at a show trial December 22 of supporting terrorism, and then sentenced to the long jail terms.
Kristof says Zenawi is making an example of the two Swedes to send a “Don’t you dare mess with me!” message to all foreign journalists.
“So the only proper response is a careful look at Meles’s worsening repression,” Kristof argues. “Sadly, this repression is abetted by acquiescence from Washington and by grants from aid organizations.”
He notes, however, that Schibbye and Persson are likely to be released “because of international pressure. But there will be no respite for the countless Ethiopians who face imprisonment, torture, and rape.”
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