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Swedish journalists jailed for 11 years in Ethiopia

December 27, 2011

Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were arrested in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region on July 1 in the company of rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) after entering Ethiopia from Somalia.

Both Swedes showed no emotion at the sentencing, as if in shock, according to an AFP reporter in the court.

Prosecutors last week at the verdict had called for a maximum sentence of 18 years and six months in prison.

Their conviction, last Wednesday, attracted a barrage of criticism from Sweden and international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Defence lawyer Abebe Balcha said the pair would decide later in the week whether to appeal against the sentencing.

“I am not satisfied, as a lawyer for the defendants, I do not agree with the decision,” Abebe said outside the court.

“We will be talking to them (the Swedes) again on Thursday, and then we will decide again on our plans on whether to appeal,” he said, adding that the judges had originally planned to give the Swedes a longer jail term.

“The court has actually passed 14 years six months first, and then mitigated it down,” he said, noting the sentence was reduced “because of the reputation of the defendants and also that they have never been involved in crime before.”

Both journalists had admitted contact with the ONLF and to entering Ethiopia illegally, but rejected terrorism charges including accusations they had received weapons training.

Following their conviction, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said Schibbye and Persson were innocent and should be set free.

The two said they met ONLF chiefs in London and Nairobi before meeting with about 20 members of the group in Ethiopia, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Somali border.

Persson said their meeting the ONLF contacts had been for professional reasons only, as part of their investigation of the activities of Swedish oil company Lundin Oil the two were to report on.

The ONLF has been fighting for independence of the remote southeastern Ogaden region since 1984, claiming they have been marginalised from Addis Ababa.

Last month, charges of participating in terrorism were dropped for lack of evidence.

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