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Ethiopia court finds Swedish journalists guilty of supporting terrorism

Martin Schibbye, a reporter, and Johan Persson, a photographer, have been convicted of entering Ethiopia illegally and helping rebels in the country's Ogaden region.

Swedish journalists ethiopia terrorism guilty 2011 12 21Enlarge
Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye (left) and Johan Persson (right). An Ethiopian court found them guilty of supporting terrorism. They could be jailed in Ethiopia for up to 15 years. (Screengrab)

A court in Ethiopia has found two Swedish journalists guilty of supporting terrorism.

Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were convicted Wednesday of helping the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebel group, and entering Ethiopia illegally, Reuters reported.

Ethiopia considers the ONLF, formed in 1984 with the goal of making the eastern region of Ogaden an independent state, to be a terrorist organization. 

The journalists are to be sentenced next week. The prosecution has called for a maximum sentence of 18 years and six months in prison.

"Guilty as charged, period, unanimous vote. They have shown that they are esteemed journalists, but we cannot conclude that someone with a good reputation doesn't engage in criminal acts," Judge Shemsu Sirgaga told the court, according to Agence France-Presse.

More from GlobalPost: Swedish journalists cleared of terrorism charge, other charges pending

AFP reported: 

Both reporters appeared expressionless at the verdict, according to an AFP reporter in the court, but it was not clear whether they understood the judge since they had no translator.

Schibbye, a reporter, and Persson, a photographer, were charged in October with engaging in terrorist activities, assisting a terrorist group, and entering the country illegally. The pair were arrested in July while traveling with ONLF rebels.

Persson and Schibbye had pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges but admitted to crossing the border illegally. In November, the journalists were acquitted of conspiring to commit terrorist attacks.

More from GlobalPost: Swedish journalists deny terrorism charges, admit to illegal entrance

According to their websites, Schibbye is a freelance journalist who has reported for Swedish publications and the Times of London, and Persson is a photojournalist for Kontinent, a Sweden-based agency.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has denied the Swedes were journalists, and accused them of being “messenger boys of a terrorist organization." 

Defense lawyer Sileshi Ketsela told Reuters following the guilty verdict that they would discuss with their clients whether to appeal.

More from GlobalPost: Ethiopia: Swedish journalists are 'messenger boys of a terrorist organization'

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/111221/ethiopia-swedish-journalists-guilty-supporting-terrorism-johan-persson-martin-schibbye