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.

Swedes plead 'not guilty' to terror crimes

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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Fashion retailer H&M plans Ethiopia expansion

Swedish fashion retailer Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) said Friday it would expand its network of suppliers to Ethiopia, after concentrating 80 percent of its production in Asian countries.

Fashion retailer H&M plans Ethiopia expansion

“We are an expansive company and are constantly looking at new potential purchasing markets to guarantee that we have capacity to deliver products to all stores in our expansive markets,” H&M spokeswoman Camilla Emilsson-Falk told AFP.

“We do that by increasing the productivity on the existing production markets as well as looking at new markets,” she added.

Test orders have been placed with Ethiopian suppliers and new factories will be built this autumn, but it is too early to say how many suppliers will be used and when the factories will be ready for production, according to Emilsson-Falk.

The East African country has had a long history in textile, leather and shoe production since its Italian occupation in 1939. Other apparel retailers have already begun sourcing products in the country, including Tesco and Chinese shoe-manufacturer Huajian, providing footwear to Guess and Tommy Hilfiger.

“Ethiopia is a country with strong development and we trust that we can sustain economic growth and job opportunities there,” said Emilsson-Falk.

Despite strong economic growth, 9.9 percent on yearly average since 2004 according to the World Bank, the sub-Saharan nation remains one of the world’s

poorest. And one year after the death of prime minister Meles Zenawi, the country is still criticised for its lack of human rights by watchdog organisations.

“We did an extensive risk analysis for Ethiopia, looking at human rights and environmental issues in the country,” said Emilsson-Falk.

“We have worked with improvement of working conditions in our production countries for many years and will apply our experience when establishing relationships with the Ethiopian suppliers.”

H&M, which has stores in Egypt and Morocco, has no concrete plans for further expansion in Africa.

Two Swedish journalists who were kept in jail for 14 months in the country were released in September 2012.

TT/AFP/The Local/pvs

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