Op-Ed Column Editor
New York Times
February 1, 2012
I am writing this piece in connection to a biased article written on the New York Times
Op-Ed Column published on January 28, 2012, by Mr. Nicholas Kristof titled “What`s He got to Hide?” pertaining to the recent court conviction of two Swedish journalists in Ethiopia. Obviously the tone and content of the article seems crafted to generate maximum negative publicity against the Government of Ethiopia deliberately glossing over the facts of
the case. Mr. Kristof's column may be designed to incite opposition to the government of Ethiopia, when it would be far better to assist the government in its relentless effort to improving the conditions of life for its people.
First I wish to clarify the missing facts surrounding the arrest and trial of the two Swedish journalists which was at the core of Mr Kristof`s article. I decided to refrain from responding to the hysterical aspects of the article in some cases bordering on derogatory language.
The two Swedish journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, were tried in an open and transparent court proceeding where they were represented by lawyers of their choice. The Federal High Court of Ethiopia has found the two journalists guilty of supporting terrorism and sentenced each to eleven years in jail after the pair entered the country under the auspices of a designated terrorist organization under Ethiopian law, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
During the course of the court proceedings, the pair admitted to entering the country illegally (violating the sovereignty of Ethiopia,) but pleaded not guilty to supporting terrorism, claiming to have entered Ethiopia to gather news information about a Swedish oil company working in the Somali region of Ethiopia, not to research human rights as claimed by Mr Kristof. The pair did not suddenly meet the ONLF in Ogaden after they illegally crossed in to Ethiopia. There was incontrovertible evidence presented in court that the ONLF had organized the journey of the accused starting from London and travelling via Kenya and Somalia into eastern Ethiopia. This is a route well-known to be used by the ONLF in organizing terrorist activities inside Ethiopia. It should be underlined that the two journalists were captured by Ethiopian troops after a clash with the group of terrorists escorting them.
The court found that this fact demonstrated the level of cooperation between the ONLF and the two journalists. It was on this basis that the two were accused and found guilty of supporting the ONLF and crossing the border illegally.
It is perfectly clear that the journalistic mission of the two could have easily been done legally without violating any law, or associating with a terrorist organization.
With regard to freedom of the press in Ethiopia, the government of Ethiopia has made it clear that it fully respects the rights of the media to work freely within the framework of its legal obligations and responsibilities. Indeed, the government has been working hard to create an enabling environment for genuinely free and responsible media that will assist Ethiopia's efforts to successfully fight poverty which is the primary enemy of our people. Even Mr Kristof grudgingly acknowledges that Ethiopia has done genuine good in fighting poverty.
In this Op-Ed column the derogatory reference to the prison conditions and the suggestion that they are kind of unfit for the two European prisoners is uncalled for. The fact remains that the Federal High Court of Ethiopia has found the two Swedish journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, guilty of supporting terrorism and sentenced them to prison terms where they will have to serve alongside other Ethiopian inmates. The State provides basic necessities in the prison system in Ethiopia and any visitor who respects the law and follows the procedures have access to visit the prisoners.
Hence one could not claim as Mr Kristof has irreverently subsumed to the notion that their only crime was "courage". If an act of deliberately and illegally crossing through the sovereign boundary of a nation , sneaking , abetted , and cuddled by a terrorist organization is an act of courage as glamorized by Mr Kristof, then he will have to recommend a wholly different set of international law.
Finally, please note that the authority of the judicial process is duly recognized by the laws of Ethiopia and its constitution. The government has made it clear that it fully respects the rights of the media to work freely within the framework of its legal obligations and its attendant responsibilities. The law in Ethiopia could not be applied selectively for different professions. It should apply equally to all citizens and professions, including journalists. I believe it is the same everywhere in the world.
I hope the New York Times will print this response which clarifies the circumstances surrounding the conviction of the two Swedish journalists.
Please accept the assurances of my highest consideration.
Tesfaye Yilma Sabo (Ambassador)
Deputy Chief of Mission
Embassy of Ethiopia