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Swedish journalists jailed for 11 years in Ethiopia


Two Swedish journalists have been jailed for 11 years after illegally entering Ethiopia with a Somali rebel group.

At judge ruled that the two freelances - Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye - must serve "rigorous imprisonment" following their convictions last week.

Ethiopian troops captured them six months ago during a clash with rebels in eastern Ethiopia's troubled Somali region, a no-go area for reporters. Ethiopia considers the rebel group a terrorist organisation, and it is difficult for journalists to gain access to the region. Rights groups say that is so abuses there are not exposed.

The judge accused the Ogaden National Liberation Front - or ONLF - of organising the Swedes' journey starting in London. Outlawed groups in many countries frequently aid the travels of reporters in order to have their version of events told.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry called the sentencing expected but regrettable.

The men's Swedish lawyer said the sentence was a disappointment, but they had not yet decided if they would appeal.

"We will try to adjust to the new situation and help them as much as possible," he said, noting that an appeal can take up to two years and that the alternative would be for them to try to get pardoned.

"The latter means that they have to confess to these crimes and apologise, which of course is a hard thing to do when you regard yourself innocent. That's why an appeal is natural, but it's a tough decision.

The chairman of the Swedish Union of Journalists, Jonas Nordling, has said that the court's decision was aimed at deterring reporters from investigating alleged human rights abuses in the Ogaden. Nordling said there was no evidence to support the journalists' conviction on terror charges.

The pair said they had been gathering news about a Swedish oil company that is exploring Ethiopia's Somali region for oil. Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, was a member of the board of the company - Lundin Petroleum - between 2000 and 2006, and left the board when he was appointed foreign minister.