New details of techniques used by Ethiopian authorities against members of the media have emerged as two Swedish journalists who spent 14 months in prison were released last week.
Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were arrested after crossing into Ethiopia with a Somali armed opposition group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front.
They were released as part of a government amnesty last week, and after returning to Sweden, spoke about the methods the Ethiopian authorities used to convict and detain them, and accused the government of using anti-terrorist laws to suppress the media.
Despite their experience, the pair has promised that they will continue to fight to protect human rights and freedom of expression, stating that their ordeal has only strengthened their resolve in this endeavour.
A new comprehension of their work
Upon their return to Sweden, Schibbye and Persson held a press conference where they discussed their time in prison, where they were subjected to mock executions and forced to participate in the video which was then used against them during their trial.
An initial video of their capture was reportedly produced a number of days following the event, according to the journalists, who said that the video was a fake.
The journalists, who were left wounded by gunshots after they were initially arrested, were also taken to the desert, separated and told that they would be shot if they did not confess, before gunshots were fired to give the impression that the other had been killed.
Freedom to speak openly
The journalists said that the greatest feeling of freedom they had experienced since their release was the ability to talk freely and openly, something which trumped the ability to move without restrictions.
Schibbye told Swedish public broadcasting: “I’ve reported on journalists being threatened and killed in the Philippines, I’ve seen mass graves of journalists there, and I’ve talked to some of those journalists who have faced that kind of situation, but I’ve never understood what it’s like to work as a journalist in a country where freedom of speech and press is under threat.”
After experiencing the horrors with which many journalists are threatened on a daily basis, the pair has developed a new comprehension for the courage and bravery displayed by members of the media in countries such as Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman, Dina Mufti said that the allegations made by the journalists were “inaccurate” and “unacceptable."
"They have been saying all along that they were being treated very well, they were even comparing the situation with other countries to say they were very ok and are better off here," Mufti told The Associated Press.
Mulugeleta Ayalew, of the Ethiopian ministry of justice’s pardoning committee told Swedish broadcaster SR: “Why would we try to trick ourselves with a faked video? Our soldiers took them in and made sure that they were given a fair trial.”
While the initial aims of the trip to Ethiopia had been curtailed by the authorities, Schibbye explained that they found a new mission during their time in jail.
“We took on another attitude, ‘We are not prisoners, we are undercover journalists in this prison,’” Schibbye told reporters.
The pair had constant access to an abundance of witnesses and sources, and spent their days speaking to as many inmates as possible. This helped them to pass the time and to stay positive about the future of the 11-year jail sentence.
Now back on home ground, the pair, who describe themselves as “old school” journalists are already looking forward to taking on more investigative reporting.
“We will keep working as usual. We live for this work. As soon as we’ve had some sleep, we’ll be right back at it again,” Persson said.
"This is normal, traditional journalistic leg work. We were sentenced in a sham process to 11 years in prison, and then had to sit in a prison camp for all these months," said Schibbye.
"We should never forget that it is an international scandal that we were condemned to 11 years in jail for doing our job," he added.
Source: DCMF, AP