An Ethiopian court found two Swedish freelance journalists guilty of supporting terrorism and entering the country illegally, said Jens Odlander, Sweden’s ambassador to the Horn of Africa nation.
Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, who face as long as 15 years in jail, will probably be sentenced next week, Odlander said by phone today from Addis Ababa, the capital. They were arrested with members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front rebel group in July. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Amnesty International called for their immediate release.
“Our starting point is and remains that they have been in the country on a journalistic mission,” Reinfeldt said today, according to a statement e-mailed by the Foreign Ministry. “They should be freed as soon as possible and be able to rejoin their families in Sweden.”
Ethiopia’s state minister of communications, Shimeles Kemal, accused the reporters of undergoing weapons training and allying themselves “with objectives of a terror organization.”
“They have gone too far so that their conduct did not constitute pure journalistic activity,” he said today in a telephone interview from Addis Ababa.
Under Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law, “rendering support to terrorism” can include providing “moral support” or giving advice.
Schibbye testified that they entered Ethiopia to report on Vancouver-based Africa Oil Corp. (AOI), which has projects in the Ogaden region. He also said the weapon he was shown holding in a video taken from his laptop computer was the gun of a hotel guard in Somalia he planned to interview.
The ONLF has been fighting for self-determination in the ethnic Somali region since 1984. In April 2007, the banned rebel group attacked an exploration site operated by China’s Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau, killing 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese workers.
“There is nothing to suggest that the two men entered Ethiopia with any intention other than conducting their legitimate work as journalists,” Claire Beston, Amnesty International’s Ethiopia researcher, said in an e-mailed statement from London. “The government chooses to interpret meeting with a terrorist organization as support of that group.”
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