STOCKHOLM, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Two Swedish journalists facing two decades in prison for helping outlawed Ethiopian rebels, can appeal against the verdict or plead for clemency, their lawyer said on Thursday, as media pressure grew on the Swedish government to get the men freed.
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 a team of Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) fighters.
“I think they are going to be pulled both ways and it is a terrible decision to have to make,” said Schibbye and Persson’s Swedish lawyer, Thomas Olsson, referring to the choice of appealing or seeking clemency.
An Ethiopian judge said the two journalists had entered Ethiopia illegally on the pretext of investigating the impact of potential oil discoveries in the region.
An appeal could mean the case might drag out for up to two years, while a plea for clemency would mean first admitting guilt. The ONLF has called on Ethiopia to release the pair, whom it referred to as “innocent Swedish journalists”.
The case has prompted anger in Sweden.
“Free Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye,” said daily Svenska Dagbladet in bold type on its leader article.
“The case is now clearly political and Sweden needs to act clearly and strongly at a political level,” it said.
Leading liberal daily Dagens Nyheter said that if diplomatic measures to free the two journalists failed, “there must be consequences for Sweden’s relationship with Ethiopia, among other things in Swedish and European aid politics”.
Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on Wednesday the government was not ready to take such a step.
A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Sweden provided about 145 million crowns ($21 million) in aid to Ethiopia every year with a focus on measures to support democracy and human rights.
Ethiopia has also been a recipient of part of about 800 million crowns in humanitarian aid this year as a result of the drought in the Horn of Africa.
Bildt has been criticised in the past for his connection to a Swedish oil company which had activities in the Ogaden and Darfur and Swedish media have questioned whether he has a conflict of interest in the case.
Bildt was a board member of Lundin Oil and its successor Lundin Petroleum between 2000 and 2006.
Lundin was accused in a European Coalition on Oil in Sudan report of being complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in that country between 1997 and 2003.
The Swedish Prosecution Authority launched a preliminary investigation into the allegations in 2010.
The two convicted journalists said they were investigating the activities of another company in the Lundin Group in the Ogaden which bought Lundin Petroleum’s licenses in Ethiopia in 2009. ($1 = 6.8909 Swedish crowns) (Reporting by Daniel Dickson and Simon Johnson in Stockholm, Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa; Editing by Matthew Jones)