Two Swedish journalists in Ethiopia jailed on terrorism charges say they are being detained unnecessarily, one year into their 11-year sentence, Swedish diplomats said Monday.
Diplomats last week visited reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson, who have been held in an Ethiopian jail since their arrest on July 1 last year.
“I think they’re very bored but physically they’re okay, mentally they’re still okay,” Sweden’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Jens Odlander, told AFP. “They still think they’ve been sitting there unnecessarily.”
The Swedes receive weekly visits from embassy staff and relatives fly to see them about once a month.
The journalists were arrested in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region with rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) after illegally entering from Somalia, and were sentenced in December for supporting terrorism.
Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal said the court’s decision stands and that Schibbye and Persson “went beyond what is permissible in journalist actions.”
“An independent tribunal has found them guilty…. They could make an appeal if they are aggrieved by the decision of the high court — they still have a chance to appeal and challenge that decision,” he said.
However, the pair said in January that they would not appeal the case. Under Ethiopian law, prisoners may be granted clemency and released early with an admission of guilt, but Odlander would not comment on whether they will seek a pardon.
The rebel ONLF said in a statement on Saturday that the Swedes were “political prisoners of conscience” and accused the Ethiopian government of cracking down on press freedom.
The case has drawn heavy criticism from rights groups, with Amnesty International calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the pair.
The journalists were convicted under Ethiopia’s anti-terror law, which critics have called vague and far reaching.
Last week, prominent journalist Eskinder Nega was found guilty along with 23 others on terror charges. They face life in jail.
Press watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists has said Ethiopia has one of the most restricted media in the world, with 79 journalists forced into exile since 2001.