Swedish Journalists Seek Pardon After Terrorism Conviction
Two Swedish journalists convicted in Ethiopia last month of supporting terrorism have decided not to appeal the decision, but ask instead for a pardon from the Ethiopian government.
Photojournalist Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye were given 11-year jail sentences for December 27, several days after an Ethiopian judge declared them “guilty as charged.”
According to CNN International, the two journalists issued a statement that said: “There is a tradition of mercy and forgiveness in Ethiopia and we choose to rely on this tradition.”
Schibbye’s mother reportedly told CNN that the two journalists decided to seek a pardon on the advice of unnamed “experts.” They also felt their defense had fallen on deaf ears at trial, so they were not optimistic that an appeal would succeed.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says on its Web site that “numerous accusatory public statements by state media and top government officials, including [Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles] Zenawi, appeared to predetermine the outcome of the trial.” CPJ has called for the release of the two journalists.
The Swedish government has also pressed Ethiopia to release the journalists. A Swedish government spokesman said that the journalists’ decision to seek a pardon “does not mean any change in our view that they were there working as journalists and that they should be released as soon as possible,” CNN also reports.
The two journalists were arrested last July in the contested Ogaden region of Ethiopia, where the government is fighting rebels–and restricting access by journalists. The journalists gained access with the help of the rebels, and were with them at the time of their arrest. The Ethiopian government classifies the rebels as terrorists.
The journalists admitted at their trial that they had entered the country illegally, but denied that they were aiding the rebels.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said on its Web site that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government “is silencing news coverage through use of a far-reaching terrorism law.” Several other journalists have been jailed–three of them on “unsubstantiated terror charges,” CPJ says– attempting to cover the uprising in Ogaden, an oil-rich part of the country.