Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ni är inte ensamma!

When I first visited Bulgaria, in the fall of 2007, I could not help but notice posters, billboards, buttons everywhere saying "Ne ste sami!" It means "you are not alone", and is probably the first full sentece I learned in Bulgarian. In Swedish it would be, literally "Ni är inte ensamma!", and when I come back to Sweden in January after this winter's Bulgaria trip I hope to see those word written all over town.
(The Ne ste sami-ribbon) The slogan was aimed at the five Bulgarian nurses that were sitting on death row in Libya, blamed for contaminating blood with HIV, and killing Libyan children. This was before the Arab spring, and Libya was still a dictatorship where it was easier to blame and jail foreigners than admitting mistakes. The Arab spring has yet to affect Ethiopia. The state is more suspicious of dissent than ever, maybe scared by the specter of public protest like those in the Mediterranean Arab states. Scores of local foreign journalists have been harassed. Two of them are the Swedes Johan Peterson and Martin Schibbye. They were earlier today found guilty of supporting terrorists and entering Ethiopia illegally. They have confessed of entering without VISA together with an ethnic militia that has been terror-labeled by the government in Addis Abebba, but maintain that their purpose was solely to investigate the work of the Swedish company Lundin Petroleum in the Ogaden province. My private opinion is this: Lundin Petroleum is a secretive company with a very bad reputation when it comes to Human Rights. Schibbye and Peterson should be praised, not jailed for trying to bring stories about their work in Ogaden into the light. Another opinion might be that Schibbye and Peterson were acting foolishly and should be reprimanded and thrown out of Ethiopia but not senteced to jail. This seems to be the official view of our Foreign Minister Carl Bildt (Link in Swedish), who himself worked for Lundin Petroleum when the company's activities in Ogaden were initiated. A lot of thing could be written about Carl Bildt's dubious role in this drama, but it might suffice to say that the best thing with having him in government is that it keeps him away from Lundin Petroleum where he might do more harm. A lot could also be written about the terrorism laws that Peterson and Schibbye are sentenced under. Western commentators point out that these laws allow the Ethiopian government to label anyone it doesn't like a terrorist. But it is hardly the first government to do so. It is simply abusing a system of black listing organizations that has been abundantly abused since 9/11. But right now, the main focus must be to get Peterson and Schibbye home. Sweden needs journalists like them, the world needs to know about Lundin Petroleum and they do need us. They need to know that they are not alone. The Bulgarian "Ne ste sami" campaign was succesful, and the nurses eventually returned to their families. There is no reason Sweden should not manage to get Peterson and Schibbye free. But it might take a stubborn campaign saying "Ni är inte ensamma!" Let us start it now.
(Foto: Scanpix)

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