By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
September 10, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) - Addis Ababa on Monday announced that it has granted pardons to more than 1,950 Ethiopian prisoners, including two Swedish journalists imprisoned on terror charges, ahead of Ethiopian New Year, which this year falls on Tuesday, 11 September.
- Ethiopian President, Girma Woldegiorgisse
Ethiopia’s Oromia region has also freed over 4,700 prisoners to mark the on New Year.
The two Swedes, reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson, were jailed on July 1st, 2011 while they attempted to illegally cross into Ethiopia from Somalia along with rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a group which Addis Ababa designates it as terrorist organization.
The Swedes were sentenced to 11 years on charges of engaging in terrorist activities, promoting and aiding a terrorist group, and also on entering the country illegally.
The two men were freed after spending nearly fifteen months behind bars.
Ethiopian President, Girma Woldegiorgisse, signed the amnesty and the grants were made to those who have shown sincere regret for the crimes they committed and to those who behaved well in the correction facility.
It is speculated that the presence of Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt at the funeral ceremony held for the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on 2 September might have created a good opportunity leading to their pardon grant.
However, Ethiopian authorities said the grant was already an approved before Zenawi passed away.
“The decision to pardon the two Swedes was approved while the late Prime Minster Meles Zenawi was still in office as part of the regular grant of pardons given at the New Year”, according to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Justice.
Zenawi has in the past said that the Swedes were "at the very least messenger boys of a terrorist organization”. The former PM’s remarks brought criticisms from human rights and press freedom organizations, who protested against such remarks being made while the case was in process.