Murillo Cortes added that the situation for the three imprisoned journalists was especially precarious because they are all freelancers, without the backing of a news organization behind them. “We wanted to show people that it could have been any one of us,” she said.
Schibbye and Persson’s case is part of a larger pattern of Ethiopian suppression of the press, according to Caelainn Barr of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The Bureau reported in September that “at least forty opposition politicians and journalists have been arrested by security forces over the last month.” The Bureau also noted that the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks described “widespread and systematic human right abuses” of every kind by the Ethiopian regime, particularly against opposition in the Ogaden area.
Meanwhile, international human rights groups and the Committee to Protect Journalists are already protesting the trial in Addis Ababa, which was originally scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed until Thursday so that the Swedes’ Somali co-defendants could obtain counsel.
The Ethiopian government
has had initially denied all Swedish journalists visas to come into the country to cover the trial, but, as of Tuesday, eighteen of Persson and Schibbye’s colleagues had flown to Addis Ababa in a show of support.*
Correction: We originally reported that the Ethiopian government had denied Swedish journalists permission to come and cover the trial. In fact, the government recently relented and allowed visas to be issued. The relevant paragraph has been updated. CJR regrets the error.