Ethiopia News: Swedish journalists guilty of "supporting terrorism"

NAIROBI, Kenya — Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were captured by six months ago during a skirmish between the Ethiopian army and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels with whom the two reporters were travelling.

On Wednesday they were found guilty of "supporting terrorism" and each now face up to 15 years in prison.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government considers the ONLF to be a terrorist organization and his courts have ruled that the two journalists are guilty by association.

"Guilty as charged, period, unanimous vote," said Judge Shemsu Sirgaga. "They have shown that they are esteemed journalists, but we cannot conclude that someone with a good reputation doesn't engage in criminal acts."

In a refutation of the presumption of innocence the judge added that the two journalists "have not been able to prove they did not support terrorism" and so he convicted them.

The prosecution has requested sentences of 18 years and six months for each man.

Persson, a photographer, and Schibbye, a reporter, were not the first and won't be the last journalists to enter a country illegally in order to cover an under-reported and inaccessible story but their guilty verdict adds to Ethiopia's growing reputation as a place where press freedoms are not respected and dissent is not tolerated.