Sweden Demands Release of Journalists Convicted in Ethiopia

Posted December 21st, 2011 at 9:40 am (UTC-5)
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Sweden is demanding the release of two Swedish journalists convicted Wednesday of supporting terrorism in Ethiopia.

An Ethiopian judge says it is unlikely the journalists were trying to gather news when they entered Ethiopia with the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front, which the African nation has designated as a terrorist group.

Ethiopian troops arrested investigative reporter Martin Schibbye and photojournalist Johan Persson in July as they were traveling with the rebels to do a story on the drought and malnutrition crisis in parts of Ethiopia.

The journalists have admitted to entering the country illegally and now face more than 18 years in prison for both charges.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said Wednesday the journalists were in Ethiopia on an assignment and must be released as soon as possible.

London-based human rights group Amnesty International also called for their immediate release.

Amnesty said there was no evidence the journalists supported the ONLF and that they were prosecuted for their “legitimate work.”

Ethiopia sharply restricts journalists and humanitarian aid workers in accessing 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 of numerous rights violations during the conflict. Both sides have denied the charges.