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Persson and Schibbye: Ethiopia reduces Swedes’ charges

November 3, 2011

(BBC)An Ethiopian court has dropped charges of participating in terrorism against two Swedish journalists.

But Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye still faced charges of supporting a terrorist group and entering Ethiopia illegally, the judge said.

They were arrested in July after being caught with fighters from an Ogaden National Liberation Front faction.
They had pleaded not guilty to the terror charges, but admitted entering the country illegally from Somalia.

Mr Persson and Mr Schibbye could face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty of supporting the ONLF rebels, the AFP news agency reports.

Judge Shemsu Sirgaga made his ruling after the prosecution closed its case at the trial in the capital, Addis Ababa.

“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,” Reuters news agency quoted the judge as saying.

Earlier this week, prosecutors screened video footage obtained from the journalists’ laptops, showing the pair travelling in Ethiopia’s Somali Region – more commonly known as the Ogaden – holding guns.

The two men will remain in custody until their trial resumes on 6 December for the defence’s presentation.

Since the 1970s, rebels in the Ogaden have been fighting for the Somali-speaking Ethiopians, who they say have been marginalised by the government in Addis Ababa.

One ONLF faction signed a peace deal with the government last year, but another splinter group has continued to fight the army.

Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the government of widespread atrocities in the Ogaden, where journalists need permission to travel.

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