438 days in Ethiopian prison ‘for doing my job’ – The Local / Sweden’s News in English
Martin Schibbye, 33, has been back in Sweden since September last year. He was freed, together with Swedish photographer Johan Persson, from the Kality prison in Addis Ababa after being sentenced to 11 years for terror crimes.
“Doing my job,” he tells The Local.
Schibbye and Persson had illegally entered Ethiopia from Somalia to write a report about how Swedish mining company Lundin was affecting the region after it set up operations there.
For both readers and critics, the entire experience begs the question of why. Why sneak into a country to tell a story about oil? Why risk your life for a byline?
“We went to write a story about oil but and came back with one about ink,” Schibbye tells The Local. “When people ask me why we did it, I explain how journalism works. Our colleagues in Syria are there illegally after having entered from Turkey with rebels, and it was the same in Libya with Gaddafi. This is a standard way to cover closed areas as a foreign correspondent.”
“It brings up a good discussion about when it’s OK to break laws, and it helps people understand how these pictures and radio stories make their way into people’s living rooms. After a while, people understand that without journalists taking risks, the world would be a silent place.”
Schibbye says that journalism is a deadlier profession than ever before, but is gladdened to note that consumers are showing more of an interest in “journalism that doesn’t ask for permission”.
“The other kind of journalism – ‘on the one hand, on the other, and only time will tell’ – will kill the business. ”
Now, even though the book is done and dusted, the story continues. Swedish prosecutors are taking up the case against the vice president and president of Ogaden. They stand accused of violating human rights, as mock executions violate the Geneva Convention.
The probe was facilitated by Abdulahi Hussein, a former adviser to the state president Abdi Muhamud Omar, who defected with taped recordings of Schibbye’s and Persson’s interrogations, which the journalist explains aided both the case and his own accuracy in retelling the story.
“It’s unique material. I was so happy when the news came out that someone had the films, and we’d always wondered if someone would defect. In fact, we were worried that no one would believe us otherwise, everything was too crazy – it was like a Steven Spielberg film.”
The whistle-blower’s evidence allows prosecutors a chance to see current documents that aren’t usually available until after revolutions, coups, or wars, Schibbye notes. The defected Ethiopian is currently living under protection in Sweden, after being hunted from Ethiopia and through Kenya.
As for Schibbye himself, besides book tours, an upcoming Swedish movie about his tale, and the potential launch of the English version of the book, he plans to continue blowing the trumpet for the prisoners he left behind.
“The story is still alive, all the prisoners you read about in the book are still there,” he tells The Local. “The worst fear of a prisoner of conscience is to be forgotten,”
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