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Swedish journos' families wary of pardon claims

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11:29 CEST+02:00
Two Swedish journalists jailed in Ethiopia after being convicted of supporting terrorism will be pardoned, according to media agency reports.

Freelance reporters Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were arrested in Ethiopia's Ogaden region last year in the company of what the government says were rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

The pair was detained after illegally crossing the border from Somalia, and after a long and controversial trial were jailed for 11 years by an Ethiopian court in December 2011, having been found guilty of supporting terrorism and entering the country illegally.

Ethiopia has a tradition of pardoning some prisoners in connection with the Ethiopian new year, which this year falls on Tuesday, September 11th.

Citing an anonymous government source, the Reuters news agency reported on Monday that Schibbye and Persson were among those to be pardoned.

However, the Swedish foreign ministry has yet to confirm the news.

"I don't have any such information," ministry spokesperson Camilla Åkesson Lindblom told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

Speaking with the Expressen newspaper, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt also refused to comment on the Reuters report.

"I have nothing to say until there is something to say," he said.

Schibbye's wife Linnea also tempered her enthusiasm over the report that her husband had been pardoned by authorities in Ethiopia.

"I want to have a better source than a Reuters journalist. There have been lots of wild speculations and I'm going to wait before commenting," she told the TT news agency.

Persson's father Kjell was also slow to sound a triumphant note on the chances that his son could soon return to Sweden.

"I've read the latest from Reuters, but I don't want to comment before they are out of the country," he told TT.

Following their conviction, the two Swedish journalists opted not to appeal the guilty verdict, putting their hopes in a pardon.

"There is a tradition of pardon and forgiveness in Ethiopia and we choose to put our trust in this tradition,” Schibbye and Persson said in a short statement after reaching their decision in January.

The death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August prompted some experts to warn that the Swedes' pardoning process could be delayed by a change in leadership in the east African country.

“It is too early to say if this will complicate the process indefinitely, but in principle that isn't likely. Whoever gets appointed PM will sooner or later have to find a solution as Ethiopia is under significant international pressure to free the jailed Swedes,” Norwegian Ethiopia expert Kjetil Tronvoll told The Local at the time.

At the weekend, Sveriges Television (SVT) reported that approximately 1,900 were set to be pardoned by Ethiopia and that the Swedes would "likely" be on the list.

On Monday, the Ethiopian ministry of justice has called a press conference scheduled for 4pm Swedish time during which it is expected that official news about any pardons will be released.

The Local/dl

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