Ethiopian court to give verdict against two Swedish journalists

By The Africa Report

Posted on Wednesday, 7 December 2011 17:02

An Ethiopian court, which has been hearing defence testimonies for the past two days, is expected to give its verdict to two Swedish journalists on 21 December 2011.

The trial of the two journalists began a couple of months ago after they were arrested last July while crossing the Ethiopian border with armed men.

The armed men claimed to be members of Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a rebel group.

The Swedish journalists are accused of supporting the rebel group and crossing the Ethiopian border illegally.

The Ethiopian federal court heard testimonies in favour of the two on charges brought against them by the prosecutors on Tuesday and Wednesday.

While the defendants agreed that they had entered the country with armed men, they argued that the men were security agents hired during their time in Somalia.

We do not support any rebel group as mentioned in the charge

“The armed men in the video clip presented by the prosecutors are not members of the rebel group. They are our security guards to protect us while crossing the border to Ethiopia,” they told the court.

“We paid them money, US$200 for that. We do not support any rebel group as mentioned in the charge.”

Lawyers of the defendants presented four witnesses, a Swede, an American, and British-journalists.

The witnesses explained their relations with the defendants and how journalists obtain information in conflict areas, including incidences of entering a country without visa.

One of the witness, Matthias Goransson, the editor of Swedish Filter magazine, told the court in his testimony that he was aware that the journalists had planned to enter Ethiopia illegally.

“They informed me and I took it as fact that the government of Ethiopia would not let them into the Ogaden.”

The court, after examining the evidence from the defence, including video clips and written material, adjourned the case for 21 December when it is expected to hear closing argument and to give verdict.

ONLF claims it is struggling for the independence of the Ogaden, a Somali region of Ethiopia, and has been involved in clashes with the government on different occasions.

The two Swedes, reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were arrested in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region on 1 July along with a number of rebels who claim to be members of ONLF.

Earlier, the two Swedish journalists, who were injured during the clash between the Ethiopians security forces and rebel groups, admitted they had entered Ethiopia illegally and apologised to the government.

They face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.

The two armed Somali men, who were arrested together with the journalists, were sentenced by the same court to 17 years in prison each.

The Somalis were unable to defend their charges, after they were arrested with their weapons and admitted to the court that they were members of the ONLF.

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