Reporters Without Borders condemns the apparent complicity between the Ethiopian authorities and those in Somalia’s semi-autonomous northeastern region of Puntland in arresting journalists and trying to gag the media.
Two Swedish journalists, reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson, were arrested after crossing from Puntland into Ethiopia’s troubled Ogaden region and covering rebel activity there, while a Somali journalist originally from the Ogaden, Faysal Mohamed Hassan, is reportedly now facing possible extradition to Ethiopia after being sentenced to a year in prison in Bossasso, Puntland’s commercial capital.
“The authorities in Addis Ababa must clarify the circumstances of the arrest of the two Swedish journalists and provide information about their current status,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We must insist that journalists cannot be treated as rebels just because they were covering rebel activity."
“We urge the Ethiopian government to guarantee access to the Ogaden for journalists and human rights activists. The news blackout that has been imposed on what is taking place in this region is outrageous. It forces journalists to enter the region illegally and just fuels suspicion that terrible human rights violations are taking place there.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We also deplore the sentence imposed on Hassan and we are concerned to learn that the Puntland authorities may be considering his extradition simply because of his ethnic origin, although he is a Somali journalist who works in Somalia. They are apparently trying to get rid of him and to send him to a region where he is liable to be persecuted.”
Schibbye and Persson, who work for the Kontinent news agency, were arrested by the Ethiopian authorities after crossing into the Ogaden illegally to investigate reports of human rights violations. Shortly before their arrest, they sustained injuries in a clash between Ethiopian government forces and armed rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), in which 15 rebels were killed.
The two journalists are now being held in Jijiga. The ONLF claims that the Puntland authorities spotted them at Galkayo airport and followed them to the Ethiopian border in order to facilitate their arrest by the Ethiopian authorities.
Anna Roxvall, a Swedish journalist who is friend of the two detained journalists, said they entered the Ogaden to investigate reports of atrocities by the Ethiopian armed forces against the local population. “They are in a region that is closed to journalists but they entered from Somalia,” she said. “They are in an extremely dangerous region.”
Hassan, who reports for the Hiiran Online news website, was given the one-year jail sentence on 2 July after being convicted on charges of endangering Puntland’s security and reporting false information under articles 215 and 219 of the Somali criminal code for writing about the murder of two alleged members of the Puntland security forces in Bossasso.
His defence lawyer accused Judge Sheik Aden Aw Ahmed of convicting Hassan although Bari district court prosecutor Bashir Mohamed Osman failed to produce any real evidence against him. The authorities seem to have it in for Hassan, who is now being held in the main Bossasso prison, because they are reportedly considering his extradition to Ethiopia solely because he comes from an Ogaden ethnic group.
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