The press conference: A manifestation for press freedom

We spoke to the Swedish media at a press conference following our release from an Ethiopian jail. We said that appreciating freedom of speech is the strongest feeling we have had since being freed. And that we were glad to be back in a country where we could speak freely.

Here you can see the press conference with English subtitles:

Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson: Press conference with English subtitles



Moderator: “You can all hear me now, right? Well, hello to all of you and welcome. My name is Jesper Bengtsson and I am the editor-in-Chief at ‘Omvärlden’ magazine and a board member of Reporters without borders. I have been asked by Mr Schibbye’s and Mr Persson’s  colleagues and families to moderate this press conference.

About the arrangement: The press conference will last about one hour. Then there will be time for individual interviews and from what I know a number of you have already signed up for one. Unfortunately, there is probably no time for further interviews. The available time has been restricted with respect for how much Martin and Johan will be able to cope with at this point in time. Would they have the energy to go on, they will let you know. For now, the press conference is meant to last one hour and two hours has been set aside for individual interviews.

Please raise your hand when you wish to ask questions. Mr Schibbye and Mr Persson will not moderate the turn of questions, and we will just have to see if it can work in this way. There are some international media here, I know, but the press conference will only be held in Swedish. You are free to ask questions in English, of course, but the answers will mainly be in Swedish. That is how it is meant to work.

Before we start I would like to say that as an active part of the Reporters without borders I have been to quite a few seminars and anniversaries at which we have drawn attention to the case of Dawit Isaak. And since the event of John and Martin’s imprisonment some 14 months ago I have to admit that there have been times when one has thought that we may have to witness more such anniversaries and arrange more such seminars.

This time to honour and address the situation of Johan and Martin. Well, we won’t have to worry about such things now, and having said that, I’m pleased to call Mr Martin Schibbye and Mr Johan Persson to the podium, welcome”.

Martin Schibbye: “Crowded like a prison, a bit like home really”.

Moderator: “We will start with an opening statement by Mr Schibbye and then we will see to your questions”.

Martin Schibbye: “After having spent 438 days as political prisoners in a prison camp and as such not having been able to express what we feel, think or experience, the strongest feeling today – and during the time that has passed since the day of our release – is not purely the physical freedom but rather the feeling of knowing the we have been returned what is righteously ours, the freedom of speech! It is a human right that is too easily taken for granted.

Ethiopia succeeded in imprisoning two journalists, but they were never able to lock up journalism.

During the past 14 months we have experienced, seen and been exposed to events that are quite unique. We have trekked, lived and been imprisoned alongside some of the world’s most defenseless and forgotten people.

We have ourselves been through what one normally comes across in interviews with refugees or when working in the field. The population of the closed region of Ogaden doesn’t blog, they will not bring pen and paper to prison, they publish no memoirs. Their stories of atrocities are instead carried by refugees across the borders to Somalia and Kenya, where their accounts grow old.

A number of years ago now we decided to go to the source of these accounts, to go to the oilfields of Ogaden. But a story meant to be about oil, soon came to be a story about ink.

Personally it’s a tremendous relief, a great joy and at the same time a terrible shock, to have been set free. In a professional perspective, we must never forget that this is an international scandal, that we, as Swedish journalists, were sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for simply having done our job, the job of interviewing a party in a conflict. This is the core of the issue.

And as happy as we may be today to have been set free, our thoughts still go to all those who are left behind, to those who are sick and those who will never leave but in a coffin. Our thoughts, first and foremost, go to all the journalists – our colleagues – that we came to know during our time in confinement. And as we went through the gates of Kality this past Monday, still in the prison compound but out of the housing zone a fellow inmate in for eight or possible nine years, I think, took a few blows by a baton on his forearms so as to let himself reach us in the chaos. He grabbed me and whispered in my ear: Martin and Johan, promise, promise, tell the world of what you have seen.

That is something that starts today, and we will tell the world about what we have seen as long as we live. Thank you”.