Ethiopia frees Swedish journalists

Ethiopia has pardoned and freed two Swedish journalists who were arrested last year in the rebel Ogaden region and had been serving an 11-year jail sentence for "supporting terrorism".

The pardon of journalist Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson was reportedly approved by the late prime minister Meles Zenawi on 12 July, and follows the reporters' 14-month incarceration in Addis Ababa.

The presence of Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt at the funeral of Meles on 2 September prompted speculation that authorities could take advantage of Ethiopia's traditional mass pardon to release the freelance Swedish reporters. The presidential pardon, which coincides annually with Ethiopian New Year, saw the release of 1,950 other prisoners but it is still unclear whether this included Ethiopian journalists detained under the same anti-terror laws that resulted in the jailing of the Swedish reporters.

After being received at the Swedish embassy Schibbye and Persson boarded an aeroplane, adhering to the Ethiopian law that dictated they must leave the country within 24 hours of their release.

In July 2011 the journalists were arrested in the company of rebels from the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), after entering Ethiopia illegally from Somalia while investigating the activities of a firm affiliated with Swedish oil company Lundin Petroleum. The separatist ONLF has been fighting for the independence of the remote southeastern Ogaden region, populated mainly by ethnic Somalis, since the group was formed in 1984.

After being handed down the 11-year sentence in December, the reporters' case drew strong criticism from human rights groups, while western allies of Ethiopia such as the US and the European Union expressed their concern at the case. 

Although they admitted to entering Ethiopia illegally the reporters have always maintained their innocence of any form of terrorism. In January they decided to abandon an appeal and seek a pardon instead.