'They were the longest days of our lives'

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'They were the longest days of our lives'

Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, home after spending the past 14 months in a prison in Ethiopia, told reporters chilling details about their ordeal during a press conference in Stockholm on Friday.


“It’s crowded here, just like when we were in prison – so it feels just like home,” Schibbye joked after arriving at the press conference on Friday afternoon.

Schibbye explained to the gathered media that the job for the pair now was to tell the world about their ordeal and the continuing problems facing other prisoners in the same situation.

“When we walked out through the gates on Monday another prisoner got up and took hold of me and said ‘Martin and Johan, promise, tell the world what you have seen’. That work begins today and it’s going to continue as long as we live,” he said.

The pair explained that it was an “international scandal” that they had been sentenced to 11 years of prison for what they described as simply “doing their job”.

When asked if it was all worth it, Persson responded:

“Those who have suffered the most are our relatives. We have had a terrible conscience for putting them through this. Our relatives have sat at home feeling awful for a year. So has it been worth it? That’s a tough question.”

Schibbye and Persson told of long days being held in the desert, in which each of them was shot by their captors.

“They were the longest days of our lives,” Schibbye said.

The pair also explained how they had kept the details about their mock executions quiet as they didn’t want to damage their chances of being pardoned.

The Swedes, who explained they would be writing a book about the affair, also denied that they were in Ethiopia to report on Carl Bildt’s involvement with Lundin Oil.

“Our report was to be about how an oil company was acting and not acting. We didn’t go there to write crap about Bildt,” said Persson, adding however that the Swedish government’s influence in their ordeal wouldn’t be discussed.

“It’s too early to say exactly what the government has or hasn’t done for us.”

The pair explained of the tough conditions in the prison, and how they constantly talked to one another and other prisoners, often secretly, in order to remain sane and healthy.

The two explained that their apology on Ethiopian television was insincere but necessary for freedom, stating that they had two choices: “to sit there for eleven years and die or to do this. We chose this.”

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

The two had reportedly entered Ethiopia to investigate the activities of a company affiliated with the Swedish oil firm Lundin Petroleum.

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.

The pair was pardoned on Monday in connection with the Ethiopian New Year, when the country traditionally pardons prisoners.

TT/The Local/og

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