Mr. Carl Bildt, Minister of Foreign Affairs (Sweden)
Mr. Jonas Gahr Støre, Minister of Foreign Affairs (Norway)
Oslo, 30 December 2011.
The prisoners in Ethiopia must be released
The Schibsted Media Group wishes to express its deep concern for the two Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, currently imprisoned in Ethiopia. We urge both the Swedish and Norwegian authorities to intensify efforts to secure their release as soon as possible.
Following the sentence of 11 years' imprisonment for illegal entry and alleged support of terrorist activities, the international community should be informed that the two journalists are to be regarded as political prisoners, and that their imprisonment in Addis Ababa should be regarded as an attack on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and human rights. The legal proceedings were deficient and lacked reliable evidence. The charge of support of terrorist activities appears to be politically motivated.
There is no doubt that Schibbye and Persson entered Ethiopia as journalists. Their journalistic mission was to uncover the truth about alleged abuses against the civilian population in the tightly controlled province of Ogaden. Among other things, they wanted to investigate how the Scandinavian oil company Lundin Petroleum handled these issues through its presence in the province; a legitimate journalistic mission in accordance with democratic traditions.
The international community is completely dependent on having a journalistic presence on the ground in conflict zones; to be the eyes that see and the ears that hear. It is not unusual for journalists to gain access to areas like these subject to agreement with one of the parties in the conflict, but it is dangerous. All democratic countries must therefore make every effort to ensure that the international community affords journalists the protection they need in order to perform this dangerous work.
The Schibsted Media Group operates key news organizations in both Sweden and Norway, including Aftonbladet, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftenposten and Verdens Gang. When performing our work we strive to uphold the editorial freedom and independence on which our democracies are founded. It is therefore natural for us to become involved in efforts to secure the release of the two imprisoned journalists.
We therefore support the unequivocal condemnation of the sentencing of Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson expressed by the International Federation of Journalists, PEN, and Reports without Borders.
While we appreciate that governments are attempting to resolve this type of case through diplomatic channels and that new strategies are currently being worked out in cooperation with prisoners of conscience and their next of kin, we would point out that when silent diplomacy proves inadequate, a sharper tone is called for. The governments of Sweden and Norway must ensure that the issue of the safety of the journalists is placed high on the agenda in all international fora in which these countries participate so that pressure is maintained on the Ethiopian authorities to recognize basic democratic principles.
In this connection, we note that both Sweden and Norway have good and long-term international aid relations with Ethiopia: Sweden provides the country with aid directed at democracy-building, human rights and equality programs, and Norway has embarked on a long-term aid program in support of Ethiopia's climate project, the Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy. Our two countries make contributions to these projects worth more than half a billion krone. It is our belief that it will be difficult to sustain support for these important and justifiable contributions in countries which fail to respect these internationally recognized principles of human rights.
Ole Jacob Sunde, Chairman of the Board, Schibsted ASA
Rolv Erik Ryssdal, CEO, Schibsted Media Group
Bernt Olufsen, Chair, Schibsted Editors’ Forum