* Journalists jailed for 11 years each
* Ethiopia says no political motive to sentence
* EU raises concerns about freedom of media in Ethiopia
(Adds Swedish State Secretary)
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, Dec 27 An Ethiopian court
sentenced two Swedish journalists on Tuesday to 11 years in
prison each for helping and promoting the outlawed Ogaden
National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebel group and entering the
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 ONLF
"The court has sentenced both defendants to 11 years. We
have heard both cases ... and we believe this is an appropriate
sentence," Judge Shemsu Sirgaga told the court.
Sweden's State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Frank Belfrage
said his country would keep up efforts to free the two men by
contacting Ethiopian ministers and consulting with the United
States and the European Union.
"We of course take this sentence extremely seriously in
light of the fact our assumption throughout has been that they
were there on a journalistic mission," Belfrage told Reuters.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said after the
journalists were found guilty of the charges last week that
Sweden was seriously concerned and the journalists should be
freed as soon as possible.
Both the European Union and the United States have also said
they are concerned by the case.
"Their sentencing on terrorism related charges raises
concerns about the freedom of media and expression in Ethiopia,"
said a statement from the office of EU foreign policy chief
The Swedes were acquitted in November on charges of
terrorism after the court found they were not involved in
carrying out any attacks. They did say they had crossed the
border without a permit.
The two have said they were in the region to investigate
activities in the Ogaden of an oil explorer which in 2009 bought
licenses in Ethiopia from Lundin Petroleum. Sweden's
Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was a board member of Lundin Oil and
its successor Lundin Petroleum between 2000 and 2006.
Judge Shemsu said the convictions warranted a sentence of up
to 14 and a half years, but noted the journalists' good
behaviour. The prosecution had asked for 18 and a half years.
Schibbye and Persson looked at the judge without expression
as the sentence was read out and then translated by their
lawyer. No family members were present.
One of the journalists' lawyers, Sileshi Ketsela, told
Reuters they were weighing the option of an appeal, but that for
now there was no talk of pleading for clemency.
About a dozen protesters gathered outside Ethiopia's
consulate in Stockholm, waving Swedish and Ethiopian flags and
chanting "Free Martin Schibbye! Free Johan Persson! Free all
political and journalist prisoners!"
"The government does not respect the rule of law that is
made in parliament. This is our reality," said 30-year-old
Nebiyu Desta Yiman, who is seeking political asylum in Sweden.
This year, Ethiopia has detained more than 150 people,
including reporters, in a crackdown the opposition says is
designed to stifle moves towards more democracy. The government
denies such accusations.
Diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Sweden have become
increasingly strained in the last couple of years, analysts say.
Ethiopia's opposition leader Birtukan Mideska, who was
convicted of treason after violence broke out following a
presidential poll in 2005 and then pardonned, was jailed again n
in 2008 after flying to Stockholm and publicly disputing Addis
Ababa's version of the pardon. She was released again in 2010.
"The authorities in Addis Ababa seemed to have been rankled
with the perceived backing of Ethiopia's opposition by
Stockholm," said a Western diplomat, who declined to be named.
Sweden has also been critical of Ethiopia's human rights
A spokesman for Ethiopia's justice ministry said reports the
trial had been politicised were unfounded.
"How can there be a political motive when prosecutors
provided evidence throughout the trial and the defendants
themselves admitted to entering the country illegally with
rebels?" spokesman Desalegn Deressa told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Mia Shanley and Anna Ringstrom in
Stockholm and David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Writing by Richard
Lough and Anna Ringstrom; Editing by David Clarke and Andrew