An official from the Ethiopian foreign ministry has confirmed to news agency AFP that the two Swedish reporters held in custody after being arrested in the Ogaden province, off limits for foreign press, will be charged with terrorism crimes.
Despite the earlier information given by Ethiopian authorities that the two Swedish reporters had been moved to the capital city Addis Ababa, the Foreign Ministry has now been told they are still held in the Jijiga area.
“We have had it confirmed to us that they are still in Jijiga. We don’t know the reason behind it or if they still will be transferred to Addis Ababa,” said Cecilia Juhlin of the Foreign Ministry to news agency TT.
So far the two men have not appeared in court, despite the fact that a remand hearing normally occurs within 72 hours of the arrest, according to information given to the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
This could indicate that the charges may be related to terrorism crimes.
“I don’t want to speculate into what kind of charges they may be, but there have been media reports claiming that this is the case,” said Cecilia Juhlin of the Foreign Ministry to daily Dagens Nyheter (DN).
The two Swedish reporters, Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, were in a conflicted Ogaden region by the Somali border, when they were arrested on July 1st.
Ogaden is off-limits to journalists, and there is an armed conflict going on between the government army and the guerrilla movement Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
Ogaden is populated by ethnic Somalis, and the Swedes entered the area together with rebels from Somali breakaway republic Puntland, in order to report on the situation.
The Foreign Ministry have received no information as of yet of the upcoming charges against the two Swedes. Neither have the reporters been issued with a defence lawyer.
“This is a demand that we continue to bring up. If there will be court proceedings they are to have legal representation,” Juhlin told TT.
The Swedish ambassador to Ethiopia, Jens Odlander, was not allowed to see the Swedes on Tuesday but is expected to visit the two reporters again as soon as he receives the green light from authorities.
Chairman of the Swedish branch of the organization Reporters without Borders, Jesper Bengtsson, said on Tuesday that he thinks the foreign ministry is doing a good job in helping the captured Swedes.
But the government is too restrained in their statements in what is ultimately a political question, Bengtsson told TT.
“When two journalists are held captive in a foreign country because they have tried to report on possible human rights abuse, the government should speak up and demand their release. I find it very hard to understand why this is treated like any consular matter,” Bengtsson told TT on Tuesday.
But according to Juhlin the Foreign Ministry is waiting to see what the charges against the Swedes will be.
“We will be looking out for their interests all the way. But if and when we will act on either political or state administrational level is a later question,” she told TT.
The foreign ministry had been told on Tuesday that the two men were being moved to Addis Ababa which would have made it easier for the Swedish representatives to get to see them. The embassy requested to see them again on Wednesday.
“We are counting on visiting them again then. We have received positive information indicating that this request will be granted,” Juhlin told DN.
But later on Wednesday they received the information that the men were still in Jijiga. Jens Odlander, who had returned to Addis Ababa following the news that the men were being taken there, does not want to speculate into what it means.
“Of course we are a little worried of the contradictory information. We haven’t received any explanation,” he told TT.
TT/Rebecca Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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