Mon. May 23rd, 2022

An Ethiopian court has sentenced two Swedish journalists to 11 years in prison for entering the country illegally and supporting terrorism.

Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were detained in July with rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Rebels in Ogaden have been fighting for independence since the 1970s.

The journalists argued their contact with the ONLF was merely to gain access to a region usually off limits to the press, because they wanted to report on the activities of Swedish oil company Lundin Petroleum in the Ogaden.

But prosecutors said the men had entered Ethiopia illegally, were supporting terrorism, and had been given weapons training.

A lawyer for the reporters described the 11-year jail verdict as “brutal” and said he would decide this week whether to appeal.

The Swedes showed no emotion at the sentencing, as if in shock, according to an AFP reporter in the court. A defence lawyer patted Schibbye on the arm as the sentence was read out.

Sweden has asked the United States and the European Union for help “to ensure their liberation as soon as possible,” state secretary for foreign affairs Frank Belfrage told the TT news agency.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton voiced “serious concern.” The Swedish Union of Journalists condemned the “political sentence” and called on Stockholm to intervene.

The Vienna-based International Press Institute also expressed concern.

“We are highly concerned at the apparent use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute and convict two Swedish journalists who appear to have been doing nothing more than their job. We urge the Ethiopian authorities to re-evaluate the case immediately,” said IPI executive director Alison Bethel McKenzie.

By Rasaas