Back home after being imprisoned in Ethiopia for more than a year, two Swedish journalists on Friday dismissed their trial on terror charges as a “sham,” saying they accepted 11-year prison terms to improve their chances of being released.
Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson also said in a news conference that their apology on Ethiopian TV in connection with their release last week was not sincere.
“At that time we were still prisoners, and it was part of the process” of being freed, Schibbye said. “I did not mean it.”
The two were arrested in the summer of 2011 while trying to cross from Somalia into Ethiopia’s Ogaden region along with fighters from the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front, which Ethiopia classifies as a terrorist group.
In December, the journalists were sentenced to 11 years each for abetting terrorism and entering the country illegally. They denied the terror charges, saying they were in Ethiopia simply to do their work as journalists.
“This is normal, traditional journalistic leg work,” Schibbye said. “We were sentenced in a sham process to 11 years in prison, and then had to sit in a prison camp for all these months.”
The Swedes said that a video used as evidence against them supposedly showing the raid in which they were arrested was actually recorded several days later and was staged by the Ethiopian army.
Schibbye also said that in the days following the arrest an interrogation leader threatened to kill him in the desert.
“He said ‘you will die here, we will shoot you here today if you don’t tell the truth,'” Schibbye said. “One soldier lifts his rifle and points it at me, then aims it to the side and shoots into the brush. Then the camera comes up and a new investigation begins.”
Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti called the journalists’ allegations “inaccurate” and “unacceptable.”
“They have been saying all along that they were being treated very well, they were even comparing the situation with other countries to say they were very ok and are better off here,” Mufti told The Associated Press.
The jailing of the journalists was condemned by rights watchdogs such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, which said their trial was “an affront to justice and press freedom.”
Associated Press writer Kirubel Tadesse in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.