Swedish FM: Ethiopia Promised Journalists’ Pardon in May

Posted September 11th, 2012 at 12:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Sweden's foreign minister says he knew back in May that Ethiopia planned to release two Swedish journalists, but that he had to keep quiet about the deal.

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt disclosed details about the talks to free Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson on his blog Tuesday, one day after the journalists were pardoned and freed.

Sweden began pushing for the two men's release soon after they were arrested on the Somali-Ethiopian border in July 2011. They were later convicted of collaborating with terrorists.

Bildt writes that after months of negotiations, he met with late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on May 10 in Addis Ababa. He says Mr. Meles said the two men would be pardoned, but only when “it could be seen in a larger context.”

He writes that both Ethiopia and the journalists wanted Sweden not to say anything about the pardon until the two men left Ethiopia.

Ethiopian officials finally released Schibbye and Persson this week as they pardoned some 1,900 prisoners to mark the Ethiopian New Year.

The minister of justice said the men had requested a pardon through a letter in which they admitted their wrongdoing.

There has been no comment from Schibbye and Persson, who were flown out of Ethiopia Monday to an undisclosed location.

Bildt writes that he worried the pardon might be postponed when Prime Minister Mr. Meles died in August. But he said Ethiopia later sent “several positive signals” that Schibbye and Persson would be released.