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Ethiopia Sentences Swedish Journalists to 11 Years in Prison

An Ethiopian court has sentenced two Swedish journalists to 11 years each in prison for supporting terrorism in Ethiopia and entering the country illegally.

The court in Addis Ababa handed down the sentence Tuesday, nearly a week after convicting investigative reporter Martin Schibbye and photojournalist Johan Persson. Each had faced up to 18 years in prison.

A judge said last week it was not likely the journalists were trying to gather news when they entered Ethiopia in July with the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which the African nation has designated as a terrorist group.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists rejected the idea that the journalists were supporting terrorism. In an interview with VOA, spokesman Tom Rhodes said the journalists were simply doing their jobs and he expressed fear the court case signals eroding press freedom in Ethiopia.

The journalists admitted to entering the country illegally, but the Swedish government and rights groups have criticized Ethiopia, saying the two men were conducting legitimate work.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed 'serious concern' saying that while recognizing the Ethiopian judicial process, they hope that the two journalists can be released as soon as possible.

Ethiopia sharply restricts journalists and humanitarian aid workers in accessing the Ogaden region, which borders Somalia.

The ONLF has been fighting for regional independence from Ethiopia since 1984. The rebels accuse Ethiopia of atrocities against the region's largely ethnic Somali population.

Human rights and aid groups have accused both the ONLF and pro-government forces of numerous rights violations during the conflict. Both sides have denied the charges.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.