Swedes charged with terror crimes in Ethiopia

The two Swedish journalists held in an Ethiopian prison are to be charged with terrorist crimes, according to information from the Ethiopian government and the Swedish foreign ministry.

“The two journalists are accused of being engaged in a terrorist activity in violation of the new anti-terrorism statute of Ethiopia,” said Ethiopian government spokesman Shimeles Kemal.

Photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, both freelancers, have been held in jail since they were arrested with Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels, who are opposed to the Ethiopian government.

Fighting broke out between the rebels and Ethiopian troops, killing 15 and injuring six, including the journalists, who suffered gunshot wounds.

Sweden said they were worried about the charges against the pair.

“The two journalists were on spot on a journalistic mission and we have not had reason to question their claim,” Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson Anders Jörle told AFP by telephone from Stockholm.

“It is worrying us that the case has been brought to a charge against the journalists.”

The Swedes are also accused of abetting a terrorist group and entering the country illegally from Somalia without permission, Shimeles said.

“They are accused of abetting and rendering professional assistance to terrorists,” he said.

“The third count relates to their entering into a sovereign state without a valid visa or lawful permission.”

According to Jörle, the Swedish embassy in Ethiopia is currently trying to glean more information.

“Our embassy is busy trying to confirm the information of the charges with Ethiopian authorities,” Jörle told the TT news agency.

Schibbye and Persson were arrested and injured in the closed border area Ogaden, on July 1st, when caught in a battle between Ethiopian government forces and the ONLF guerrilla.

They have been held in an Ethiopian prison since the beginning of July.

“They entered the country with a gang of terrorists. They have even been trained in using weapons. Their activities go a bit beyond just journalistic news gathering,” Kemal said, according to Bloomberg.

News of the charges were met with concern in Sweden.

“The two Swedish reporters have remained adamant that they were their carrying out journalistic activities and we have seen no reason to question this. Considering this, it feels worrying that they have been charged,” State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Frank Belfrage commented in a statement on Wednesday.

The two Swedes have admitted entering the country illegally but have denied any terrorist activity. According to the embassy in Addis Ababa, they have so far been treated correctly while in custody.

The Swedes who appeared in court on Tuesday in Addis Ababa with two Ethiopians accused of being members of the ONLF, who were also charged with terrorist offences.

During the hearing, the public prosecutor showed the court video footage he said showed the Swedes receiving weapons training from ONLF gunmen.

The maximum sentence for commissioning or planning terrorist activities under Ethiopian law is life in prison.

International press freedom watchdogs have condemned the arrests of the journalists.

Since its formation in 1984, the ONLF has been fighting for the independence of the remote southeastern Ogaden, which is populated mainly by ethnic Somalis and has been marginalised by the Addis Ababa regime.

Ethiopia last month arrested 31 people, including prominent opposition party members, on terrorism-related charges and being members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), another rebel group battling the government.

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