News / Africa

Swedish Journalists Imprisoned in Ethiopia Seek Pardon

Kjell Persson (R) and Christina Persson (C), parents of Swedish photographer Johan Persson and Swedish ambassador to Ethiopia Jens Odlander (R), stand outside the courtroom in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, December 21, 2011.
Kjell Persson (R) and Christina Persson (C), parents of Swedish photographer Johan Persson and Swedish ambassador to Ethiopia Jens Odlander (R), stand outside the courtroom in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, December 21, 2011.

Two Swedish journalists sentenced to prison in Ethiopia on terrorism charges have decided to seek clemency rather than file an appeal.  Ethiopia's federal high court is currently hearing three other terrorism trials involving journalists and opposition politicians.

Journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson said Tuesday they would not appeal their 11-year sentence for entering Ethiopia illegally and aiding an outlawed insurgent group.

As the deadline for filing an appeal passed, the pair issued a brief statement indicating they would ask for a pardon. The statement was read by Persson's father, Kjell Persson, by telephone from his home in Sweden.

“This is what they are saying in their own words. There is a tradition of grace and forgiveness in Ethiopia, and we chose to rely on this tradition," he said.

Sweden's ambassador to Ethiopia, Jens Odlander, said bilateral discussions are underway on the fate of the journalists.

"There is a dialogue, which is ongoing between the Swedish and Ethiopian governments. We have direct talks, government to government discussion," said Odlander.

Schibbye and Persson were arrested last June while traveling with fighters from the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front in Ethiopia's restive Somali region. A three-judge high court panel ruled last month that their association with the banned group was outside normal journalistic practice, and constituted support for terrorism.

The same federal court currently is hearing three other terrorism cases involving Ethiopian journalists and opposition politicians. All had been outspoken critics of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front.

Human rights and press freedom groups have pointed to the arrest of at least 33 people on terrorism charges since last June as evidence that the government is using the anti-terrorism law to silence dissent.

Government officials, including Prime Minister Meles, have staunchly denied the accusations, saying police have produced compelling evidence against the defendants.



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