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'The government acted too slowly': relatives

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'The government acted too slowly': relatives
10:08 CEST+02:00
Relatives of freed journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, jailed in Ethiopia on terror charges, have for the first time openly criticized the Swedish government's handling of their case.

In an interview with the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN), Johan Persson's father, Kjell Persson, accused the government of acting too slowly in the weeks after the two journalists' arrest in Ethiopia.

Persson also accused Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and foreign minister Carl Bildt of making a series of "clumsy" and insensitive statements and of declining potentially useful assistance from former foreign minister, Jan Eliasson.

Bildt wrote a long blog post on Tuesday explaining how he and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs had worked with the Swedish embassy in Addis Abeba to secure the reporters' release.

But Kjell Persson is not convinced. He criticized Bildt for releasing a statement soon after the two freelance journalists' arrest in which he accused them of having "gone into a conflict area which we have strongly advised against".

Persson was also critical of Reinfeldt's description of Ethiopia as a "dictatorship" at a time when relatives and officials were working hard to conduct a dialogue with Addis Ababa.

Further, he said that Jan Eliasson, a foreign minister in the previous Social Democrat government, could have been helpful as he has many contacts in Ethiopia, but that Reinfeldt dismissed Eliasson's offer of assistance without any discussion.

Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye themselves have chosen to hold off making any statements about the Swedish government's involvement in negotiating their release.

They say they know too little at this point, having been unable to access any news sources during their 14-month captivity in the notorious Kality-prison in Ethiopia.

But the two gave credit to Sweden's ambassador in Ethiopia, Jens Odlander, and to the previous consul general in Addis Ababa, Fredrik Spik.

Odlander and Spik accompanied the two journalists throughout the court process and visited them several times in the Kality-prison.

Odlander did not want to comment on his contributions but sent a text message to Dagens Nyheter newspaper which said: "Mission accomplished".

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 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.

The Local/nr

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