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Swedes convicted of terror crimes in Ethiopia

Published: 21 Dec 2011 09:09 GMT+01:00
Updated: 21 Dec 2011 10:43 GMT+01:00

Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were found guilty of terror crimes by an Ethiopian court on Wednesday.

In addition to being found guilty of supporting a terrorist group, the two Swedes were also convicted of visa violations for entering the country illegally, with the

prosecution calling for a maximum sentence of 18 years and six months in prison.

"Guilty as charged, period, unanimous vote. They have shown that they are esteemed journalists, but we cannot conclude that someone with a good reputation doesn't engage in criminal acts," Judge Shemsu Sirgaga told the court.

According to the court, the Swedes "used their profession as a cover to act on behalf of the terrorists".

Both the freelancers were also found guilty of entering Ethiopia illegally.

"They have not been able to prove that they did not support terrorism," Shemsu said, speaking in Ethiopia's Amharic language.

Both reporters appeared expressionless at the verdict, according to an AFP reporter in the court, but it was not clear whether they understood the judge since they had no translator.

Later on Wednesday morning, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt commented on the ruling via Twitter.

"Sweden expresses grave concern over hard sentence against Swedish journalists in Ethiopia. We will continue to work to set them free," wrote Bildt.

Reporter Schibbye and photographer Persson -- both freelancers -- were arrested in Ethiopia's Ogaden region on July 1st after entering the country from Somalia.

They were arrested after a gun battle erupted between Ethiopian troops and ONLF fighters, and are charged with supporting a terrorist group and entering the country illegally.

Prosecution lawyers called for a sentence of 13 years for the terrorism charges, and a further five years and six months for entering Ethiopia without permission.

The court is expected to announce its sentencing decision on December 27th, according to reports in the Swedish media.

Charges of participating in terrorism were dropped last month due to a lack of evidence.

Speaking with the TT news agency, the journalists' Swedish lawyer, Thomas Olsson, said he hoped the court would decide to deport rather than imprison Schibbye and Persson.

“The hope is that they will nullify the charge related to terror crimes and be satisfied with deporting Martin and Johan because they entered the country illegally,” the said.

“Of course, it depends somewhat on how the court views their reason for entering the country. There are sentencing guidelines calling for up to ten years in prison if the purpose was subversive, that is to say, if one had the intention of damaging the Ethiopian state. But since no such reason has been established, the hope is that they will settle on deporting them.”

The journalists both testified they were in Ethiopia to report on the activities of the Swedish oil company Lundin Oil in the Ogaden.

They said they met ONLF chiefs in London and Nairobi before meeting with about 20 members of the group in Ethiopia, about 40 kilometres from the Somali border.

Ulrika Knutson, chair of Sweden's National Press Club (Publicistklubben – PK), condemned the guilty verdict as a “human, policital, and journalistic catastrophe”.

“We still don't know how long the penalty will be. When we do know, the Swedish government must use all its powers to see that Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson come home as quickly as possible,” she told Journalisten.se, the newspaper of the Swedish journalists' union.

Jesper Bengtsson, chair of the Swedish branch of Reporters without Borders, also called on the Swedish government to take a more active role in the case of the Swedish journalists, calling their conviction a “blow against press freedom”.

“This is a major blow against quiet diplomacy as well,” he told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) daily.

“I'm assuming that the lack of sharply-worded statements that has existed in the past will be corrected now.”

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

09:43 December 21, 2011 by truthworthy
This is all due to fact that Sweden has shown so much weakness in the face of dictatorship that denies freedom of the press and human rights.
10:06 December 21, 2011 by Frobobbles
truthworthy: one of those deniers is the marxist-leninist Martin Schibbye. Johan Hakelius wrote about this in the magazine Affärsvärlden.
11:45 December 21, 2011 by star10
The EU is such an important donnor that it can actually starve the Ethiopian repressive regime to its death. What Sweden should do is send a clear signal that the Ethiopian tyrant will get zero aid money from EU if it doesn't release the journalists. That I am sure will definetely work. Surprising, there hasn't been much pressure from the EU. The Ethioian tyrant is not like the Eritrean one. Eritrea is not so dependent on foreign aid (even if it is so poor). But EU Aid is blood for the Ethiopian tyrant.
12:21 December 21, 2011 by abaraham
star10 Go hell with your aid!! do you think you can buy us by your aid. you can allow anybody to get in to your fathers pig or potatis farm but not to africa.

why dont you try to go like them. you will find your self in hot water.

I am sorry for those young ''jornalists'' hope they will get mercy for the gov and back to thier family.
13:30 December 21, 2011 by truthworthy
abaraham, do you seriously think Ethiopia could survive without the £1.8 billion aid from the west?

Wake up man. We all know how is life in Ethiopia, i have been to Addis Ababa. I am sure if the EU says 24 hours to release the journalists. Meles will do it without hesitation because he knows what is at stake.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/ethiopia/8681975/Britain-and-EU-increase-aid-to-Ethiopia-while-ignoring-human-rights-warnings.html
19:04 December 21, 2011 by Munir Ahmed
It's one thing to interview terrorists, but it's another to knowingly travel with them to document a civilian killing mission...If this was in Europe, and not Black Africa, there would've been outrage.

Ethnic Somali Ogaden (ONLF) terrorists massacres:

BBC NEWS: 74 Chinese & Ethiopian oil workers machine-gunned asleep in bed

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6588055.stm

REUTERS NEWS: UN workers ambushed, killed, kidnapped

http://af.reuters.com/article/ethiopiaNews/idAFLDE74D0CU20110514
23:07 December 21, 2011 by ye_hiwot
@Star10, Don't you think that the amount of money that fled to European banks in a year is by far greater than the so-called EU aid 2 billion? This amount of aid money is not accounted for in any way, as larger portion of it remains in the capitols of Europe and America. As Graham Hancock has written in his book 'Lords of Poverty' the rest of money goes to create job for donor countries. What next then? the rest end up teaching corruption and tyranny. See? Aid is not help! If that tiny country of yours, Eritrea, is able to survive with out aid, what is the miracle to believe that Ethiopia will not survive with out it considering its 20x as large working force as Er? It seems irony. After all, it has a GDP of $86.12 billion (2010 est.) (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/et.html). Make sense and think sometimes out of politics. For the journalists, Sweden is unable to secure the freedom of Dawit Isaac for the last 11 years. It doesn't work! only civility can settle the issue. Don't mess with the Zohan!
01:31 December 22, 2011 by be reasonable
@ye_hiwot,God bless you!Tell them the facts!...
10:07 January 8, 2012 by BBKING
@Trustworthy I am an Ethiopian. I think you suffer from lack of information. You are stuck with an age-old state of mind that believes that Africa is always about poverty. Read more please. The situation is changing forever there.

I think you are from Sweden and I have a feeling that we will overtake in your lifetime. Who knows you would be the ones then who will need our assistance. Wait and see son.
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