Swedes plead ‘not guilty’ to terror crimes

Swedes plead 'not guilty' to terror crimes
The two Swedish reporters facing terrorism charges in Ethiopia pleaded not guilty when the trial resumed on Thursday, but apologised for having entered the country illegally.

Photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, both freelancers, have been held in jail since they were arrested on July 1 with Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels after a battle with government troops.

“I entered the country illegally without proper documentation, for this I am guilty, for this I apologise to the Ethiopian government,” Schibbye told the court.

“But I am not guilty to the charge of terrorism.”

His colleague, Persson, also admitted to not having proper documentation.

But he added: “My intention was to do my job as a journalist, to describe the fighting, nothing else, not guilty.”

An AFP reporter at the court said the Swedes, dressed in dark suits and ties, looked serious as they listened to the charges against them in the court room, which was packed with around a hundred people.

“Your honour, I am a Swedish journalist, my job is to gather news,” Schibbye told the judge.

“We did not have any intention to collaborate with any group with interest to destabilise Ethiopia. For that we are not guilty.”

The two were reportedly seen to smile at times to family members present in the court room, including Persson’s father and Schibbye’s wife, as well as to around 20, mainly foreign, journalists.

The ONLF, formed in 1984, has been fighting for the independence of the remote south eastern Ogaden, populated mainly by ethnic Somalis, which the rebels say has been marginalised by Addis Ababa.

After being arrested in July while in the Ogaden region while in the company of the ONLF, the Swedes were charged last month with being engaged in terrorist activities, aiding and abetting a terrorist group, and entering the country illegally without permission, from neighbouring Somalia.

Two fellow co-accused, Ethiopian ethnic Somalis suspected of being ONLF members, also pleaded not guilty.

The trial was then adjourned to November 1st.

The prosecution claims they need at least ten days to gather the witnesses they want to testify, which are at the moment in the Ogaden province, according to daily Dagens Nyheter (DN).

On Thursday the two Swedes’ defence lawyers said that they had yet to get to see the complete body of evidence, and that they need this to be able to defend the case in court.

“It is apparently a question of video clips, information from computers and memory cards. But the prosecutor said that these will be brought forward as the trial gets properly underway. the judge seemed happy with that,” said DN reporter Thomas Hall, who was one of the reporters present in the court room.

The trial is expected to take between two and 12 months. If found guilty, the two Swedes could be facing up to 40 years in prison.

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