Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Guilty until proven innocent?

Swedish journalists receive 11 years in jail
Two Swedish journalists who were found guilty in Ethiopia of supporting terrorism were sentenced to 11 years in jail Tuesday, the Swedish foreign ministry said.

Ethiopian troops captured Persson and Schibbye in July during an exchange of gunfire with a rebel group in the Ogaden, a prohibited region along the nation's border with Somalia, according to state media.

Ethiopians officials have accused the journalists of being accomplices to terrorism after the government declared the Ogaden National Liberation Front a terrorist group in June.

Persson and Schibbye were convicted on two counts: entering the country illegally and providing assistance to a terrorist organization, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Both journalists pleaded guilty to entering the country illegally through Somalia without accreditation, according to the CPJ, which says Ethiopian officials deny media access without government minders.

"Our starting point is and remains that they have been in the country on a journalistic mission," Swedish Prime Minister Frederick Reinfeldt said in a statement last week. "They should be freed as soon as possible and be able to rejoin their families in Sweden."

But presiding judge Shemsu Sirgaga said the two "have shown that they are esteemed journalists, but we cannot conclude that someone with a good reputation does not engage in criminal acts," Sirgaga said.

"They have not been able to prove that they did not support terrorism."

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