‘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.

'They were the longest days of our lives'

“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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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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