Sweden seeks help from EU, US over jailed reporters

Sweden has asked the United States and the EU for help in securing the release of two journalists sentenced to 11 years in an Ethiopian prison on Tuesday for supporting terrorism, a Swedish diplomat said.

“We are continuing to work at all levels and on different tracks to ensure their liberation as soon as possible,” Swedish state secretary for foreign affairs, Frank Belfrage, told the TT news agency, adding that the tracks included contacts with the United States and the European Union.

Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were arrested in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region on July 1 in the company of rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) after entering Ethiopia from Somalia.

“We of course consider this sentence to be extremely serious,” Belfrage said on Tuesday, reiterating Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s position that Schibbye and Persson were in Ethiopia on “a journalistic mission.”

‘Supporting terrorism’
An Addis Ababa court on Tuesday sentenced the pair to 11 years behind bars after they were found guilty last week of “supporting terrorism”.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who has come under fire for not doing enough to help the pair, was on holiday and only briefly commented on his official Twitter feed by hailing EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s condemnation of the sentence.

“Good EU statement on sentencing of two Swedish journalists in Ethiopia. We wanted the voice of EU to be heard today,” he wrote late on Tuesday afternoon.

That comment was however unlikely to stifle growing media criticism of Bildt, who has been accused of a conflict of interest in the case.

Swedish media revealed in September that the pair were in the remote south-east region of Ogaden, populated mainly by ethnic Somalis, to investigate the activities of a company affiliated with the Swedish oil firm Lundin Petroleum, which counted Bildt as a board member from 2000 until 2006, when he was appointed foreign minister.—AFP

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