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Two Swedish journalists back in Ethiopian court

The Africa Report
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The two Swedish journalists arrested in July after they were caught entering Ethiopia with rebels appeared in court for the second time on Tuesday charged with terrorism.

Photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, both freelancers, arrested while crossing the Ethiopian border with fighters from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in the Somali region of Ethiopia, bordering Somalia.

Persson and Schibbye are being charged together with two Somali-Ethiopians.

The Swedes were charged last month with being engaged in terrorist activities, aiding and abetting a terrorist group, and entering the country illegally without permission from neighbouring Somalia.

On Tuesday a judge in the Addis Ababa court asked the two Somali-Ethiopians to hire a lawyer before adjourning the case to Thursday.

He ordered prison authorities to ensure that the two were provided with a pro deo lawyer after they indicated that they could not afford one.

The court room was packed with journalists, members of the diplomatic community and ordinary people.

Lawyers for the two Swedes have predicted that the case might take between four to six months to conclude.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi last week told journalists in Norway that the journalists were "at the very least messenger boys of a terrorist organisation".

But Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an advocacy group for journalists, has said in a statement that "Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's claim in a recent interview for the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten that they were acting as the messengers of a terrorist organization' does not bode well".

And after reports indicated that the two "were not accompanied by a lawyer when they were formally charged on 6 September", RSF wondered whether the "outcome of the trial (had not) already been decided by the government".

The ONLF, formed in 1984, has been fighting for the independence of the remote southeastern Ogaden region, populated mainly by ethnic Somalis, which the rebels say has been marginalised by Addis Ababa.

The journalists face life in jail if they are convicted of the terrorism charges.


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