ADDIS ABABA, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Ethiopia accused international rights groups of double-standards on Friday, citing their criticism of its treatment of two Swedish journalists who were jailed this week for aiding rebels and entering the country illegally.
Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were sentenced to 11 years in prison on Tuesday for aiding and promoting the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
The ruling sparked swift condemnation from rights groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). All have called for the immediate release of both journalists.
“The claim that accountability is proper and natural in America or Europe but wrong, even unlawful, in the developing world is a classic case of the double standards for which these advocacy and human rights organizations have become notorious,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“They frequently and indeed almost consistently claim that journalists (particularly Western journalists) should be immune to any consequences for illegal activities and violations as long as they are committed in Africa,” it added.
The Swedes were acquitted in November on charges of participating in terrorist acts. They admitted to crossing the border without a permit.
Both Persson and Schibbye deny supporting the rebels, saying they were in the region to investigate activities 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.
The pair’s lawyer told Reuters they were scheduled to discuss appealing the verdict this week, but diplomats in the country say Ethiopia faces a dilemma over granting clemency having charged a number of local journalists on similar terror-linked charges.
According to CPJ the east African country has the highest number of exiled journalists in the world. (Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by George Obulutsa and Matthew Jones)