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Ethiopia frees journalists

September 11, 2012

Ethiopia has pardoned and freed two Swedish journalists arrested last year and serving an 11-year sentence for "supporting terrorism." Sweden's TT news agency has reported that the journalists have already left Ethiopia.

Swedish photojournalist Johan Persson in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. (Photo: epa03392792 MANDATORY CREDIT: KONTINENT AGENCY A handout photograph dated 13 September 2009 and provided by Kontinent Agency on 10 September 2012 shows a)
Image: dapd

Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were arrested with rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front after illegally entering from Somalia. Before his death last month, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi approved the release as part of traditional annual pardons for September 11, the Ethiopian New Year. A government source told the Reuters news agency that the journalists had been pardoned along with more than 1,900 other inmates.

"Right now I'm just very, very happy, and oh how we've waited for this day," Karin Schibbye; Martin's mother, told TT.

Authorities arrested the journalists in Ogaden, a remote southeastern region of Ethiopia populated mainly by ethnic Somalis, where the freelancers had gone to investigate a company affiliated with Sweden's Lundin Petroleum. The court did find that the journalists had not been involved in carrying out any attacks. Some of Ethiopia's allies, including the European Union and United States, expressed concerns about the verdict.

Human rights abuses

Human rights groups call Ethiopia's anti-terror law vague and indiscriminate. The country has detained about 150 people, including 10 reporters, since passing legislation in 2009 to deal with rebel groups that have links to al Qaeda and Eritrea.

There is still no news about Ethiopian journalists detained under the anti-terror law. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls Ethiopia's press laws some of the world's most restrictive. Seventy-nine reporters and editors have been forced into exile since 2001.

In July alone Ethiopia sentenced a prominent blogger and five other exiled journalists to between eight years and life on charges of conspiring with rebels.

mkg/mr (AFP, Reuters)