Swedes cleared of terrorism in Ethiopia but still held
Thu Nov 3, 2011 10:35am GMT
* Swedes cleared of conspiring to commit terrorist acts
* Face charges of supporting ONLF rebel group (Adds details, background)
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, Nov 3 (Reuters) - An Ethiopian court acquitted two Swedish
journalists on Thursday of conspiring to commit terrorist attacks, but kept
them in detention and said they must still answer allegations they had
assisted the secessionist ONLF rebel group.
Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were arrested in
July after they entered Ethiopia's Ogaden province from Somalia's
semi-autonomous Puntland region with a team of fighters from the Ogaden
National Liberation Front (ONLF).
The freelance journalists say they were covering the ONLF as a news story
and deny assisting their cause.
"Though the prosecutors have provided witnesses and evidence to support
their accusation, the court does not believe it is substantial enough to
prove that the journalists were involved in carrying out a terror attack,"
judge Shemsu Sirgaga ruled.
Shemsu, however, ordered the pair to defend themselves against allegations
they had helped the ONLF and had entered the country illegally without a
Persson and Schibbye last month pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges
but admitted to crossing the border without a permit.
A security official and soldiers who appeared in court as prosecution
witnesses have said the pair were tracked down with a group of armed rebels
some 90 kilometres (56 miles) inside Ethiopia.
The government launched a security operation against the militants, killing
20 fighters and seizing the two journalists.
Two rebels caught alongside the Swedes were found guilty of attempting to
carry out attacks.
During the trial, prosecutors screened a three-hour video they said was
obtained from one of the Swedes' laptops, showing footage of the journalists
hoisting rifles alongside armed men and being briefed over a map on how to
infiltrate the region.
The clip also included interviews with unidentified individuals who
described abuses in the region.
The journalists' lawyers told the court that they would challenge the two
outstanding charges, saying they would provide up to eight witnesses to
prove their innocence. The defendants will next appear in court on December
Addis Ababa has blacklisted the ONLF as a terrorist group, and its
recently-adopted anti-terrorism legislation outlaws promotion of the
insurgents' activities. (Editing by Richard Lough and Peter Graff)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Thu Nov 03 2011 - 15:12:00 EDT