DCMF has welcomed the Ethiopian government’s decision to release two Swedish journalists who have been imprisoned for over a year, and who were pardoned and freed as part of an amnesty on Monday.
Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were sentenced to 11 years in jail last December after entering the country illegally with members of a Somali Rebel Group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front.
A government source said on Monday: "Some 1,900 prisoners have been pardoned and are scheduled to be released in the coming days. The Swedish journalists are part of the group.”
The pair was released later that afternoon and boarded a flight to Sweden according to sources at the airport in Addis Ababa.
They claimed that they had been using members of the group as guides to provide access and expertise in areas from which the Ethiopian authorities have banned journalists entering.
The journalists were initially detained on July 1, 2011 and earlier this year complained about their “unnecessary detention.”
Ethiopian Justice Minister, Berhan Hailu told a press conference on Monday afternoon: “These journalists submitted their petition to the late Prime Minister before June and (President Girma Woldegiogis) arrived at a decision to grant pardon to them.”
He added that the decision to release the journalists had been taken by the late Prime Minister on July 12, and that the pair had to leave the country within 24 hours of being released.
Swedish ambassador Jens Odlander told AFP that the journalists were in “good spirits” and had arrived at the embassy on Monday evening where they had eaten dinner, although he did not confirm when they would leave the country.
Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt’s attendance at Meles’ funeral earlier this month gave rise to suggestions that Ethiopia would take advantage of the traditional amnesty to release the pair. They annual pardon, which coincides with the Ethiopian New Year, provided an opportunity to resolve a case which had brought much international attention and pressure to the country.
Relief and happiness at decision
Schibbye's mother, Karin Schibbye told Swedish news agency TT: “Right now I'm just very, very happy, and oh how we've waited for this day."
The Swedish Union of Journalists also hailed the decision to release to duo.
"I am so very glad that Martin and Johan have been freed after 14 months in an Ethiopian prison. I hope they can be reunited with their families as soon as possible," said union Chief Jonas Nordling.
Reports have suggested that other journalists may be released as part of the amnesty, but this has not been made clear by the authorities.
DCMF welcomes journalists’ release
"DCMF is pleased to hear about the release of Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson by the Ethiopian authorities. However, it is disappointing that the journalists were forced to spend so long in jail after attempting to carry out their work as investigative reporters," said DCMF Director, Jan Keulen.
"We hope that this is a sign of increased openness to journalists in Ethiopia, and an indication that freedom of expression will be safeguarded, rather than attacked, by authorities there."
“DCMF paid from the beginning attention to the plight of the two Swedish colleagues and called on the Ethiopian government for their release," he said, adding “we're also calling for the release of all Ethiopian imprisoned journalists, especially Reyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and Eskinder Nega who were sentenced this year to long prison terms for ‘terrorism related crimes’.”
Source: DCMF, AFP