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Swedish journos jailed for 11 years in Ethiopia

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08:28 CET+01:00
An Ethiopian court on Tuesday sentenced two Swedish journalists to 11 years in jail for supporting terrorism and entering the country illegally.

"The sentence should be punishment of 11 years imprisonment," Judge Shemsu Sirgaga told the court in the Amharic language through a translator.

"This sentence should satisfy the goal of peace and security," he added.

Both Swedes showed no emotion at the sentencing, according to an AFP reporter in the court.

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.

Last Wednesday, the court found them guilty of supporting a terrorist group and for entering the country illegally, with the prosecution calling for a maximum sentence of 18 years and six months in prison.

Their conviction, last Wednesday, attracted a barrage of criticism from Sweden and international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

However, after Tuesday's sentencing, Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon said: "We live by the decision and we fully accept the decision," dismissing the concerns of rights groups.

"These are the same organisations who are interested only in regime change. We feel these people do not understand the concept of rule of law."

Defence lawyer Abebe Balcha said the pair would decide later in the week whether to appeal against the sentencing.

"I am not satisfied, as a lawyer for the defendants, I do not agree with the decision," Abebe said outside the court.

"We will be talking to them (the Swedes) again on Thursday, and then we will decide again on our plans on whether to appeal," he said, adding that the judges had originally planned to give the Swedes a longer jail term.

"The court has actually passed 14 years six months first, and then mitigated it down," he said, noting the sentence was reduced "because of the reputation of the defendants and also that they have never been involved in crime before."

Following their conviction, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt also said Schibbye and Persson were innocent and should be set free.

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.

The ONLF has been fighting for independence of the remote southeastern Ogaden region since 1984, claiming they have been marginalised from Addis Ababa.

Last month, charges of participating in terrorism were dropped for lack of evidence.

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