Ethiopia Drops Terror Charge Against Swedes

Posted November 3rd, 2011 at 8:40 am (UTC-5)
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An Ethiopian court has dropped terrorism charges against two Swedish journalists, but the two are still accused of supporting a terrorist organization.

During court proceedings in Addis Ababa on Thursday, Judge Shemsu Sirgaga said there was insufficient evidence to pursue the more serious terrorism charge.

The judge said investigative reporter Martin Schibbye and photojournalist Johan Persson still must answer charges they supported an outlawed rebel group and entered Ethiopia illegally.

The Swedes are accused of aiding the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front , which Ethiopia has designated a terrorist group.

Ethiopian troops arrested Schibbye and Persson in July as they were travelling with the rebels to do a story on the drought and malnutrition crisis in parts of Ethiopia.

While Schibbye and Persson pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges, they did admit to entering the country illegally.

If convicted, each faces up to 15 years in prison.

Sweden's foreign ministry has defended the journalists, saying they were in the region solely to do reporting.

Ethiopia sharply restricts journalists and humanitarian aid workers access to the Ogaden region, which borders Somalia.

The ONLF has been fighting for regional independence from Ethiopia since 1984. The rebels accuse Ethiopia of atrocities against the region's largely ethnic Somali population.

Human rights and aid groups have accused both the ONLF and pro-government forces with numerous rights violations during the conflict, charges both sides have denied.