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Reporting Is Not Terrorism

Pedestrians walk past the Federal High Court building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 1, 2011.

Two Swedish journalists face up to 11 years in prison after a court in Ethiopia convicted them of supporting terrorism.

Two Swedish journalists face up to 11 years in prison after a court in Ethiopia convicted them of supporting terrorism and entering the East African nation illegally. The case has attracted international attention and condemnation from human rights and free press groups because of the harsh sentence for a conviction that appears to conflate reporting on terrorist groups with support for them. The United States finds the guilty verdict’s implications for working journalists in Ethiopia particularly concerning.

The two men, a reporter and a photographer working with him, were arrested June 30 in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region while traveling with members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a rebel group fighting for regional autonomy. The journalists traveled there to research a story in the conflict zone. Ethiopian authorities said that by being in the company of a group of ONLF fighters, who have been designated by the government as terrorists, the Swedes were in effect supporting terrorism. They justified the sentence saying other nations have similarly harsh standards for those believed to be working with terrorists.

The United States is concerned about the court’s ruling. The journalists conceded that they had entered Ethiopia illegally. We recognize the authority of the Ethiopian judicial process, the legitimate concerns about terrorism, and the government’s need to protect the country’s national security. But by equating the reporting on a subject like terrorism with the subject itself, the decision could have a chilling effect on the work of both Ethiopian and foreign journalists. As we have stressed in our ongoing human rights dialogue with the Ethiopian government, a free press is an important element of democratic society.

We will continue to engage the Ethiopian government on this case and others involving journalists as part of our broader effort to ensure respect for press freedom.