ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Two Swedish journalists who have been imprisoned in Ethiopia for more than a year have been pardoned and are set to be freed, Ethiopia's justice minister announced Monday.
Minister Berhan Hailu told reporters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, that the decision to pardon photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye had been approved by the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The Swedish journalists are among 1,923 convicts in prisons around the country who are getting amnesty, he said, adding that only those who show remorse can be pardoned. The Ethiopian government has over the years released hundreds of prisoners in a ceremony timed to coincide with the start of the new year according to Ethiopia's calendar.
"The two Swedes are among the ones to be released," Berhan said. "The decision to pardon them was made in July."
The minister could not say precisely when the journalists would be released from jail, saying only that this might happen within the next 24 hours.
Persson and Schibbye have been in jail since July 2011, when they were arrested 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.
Last December the journalists were sentenced to 11 years 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. Their jailing was condemned by rights watchdogs such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, which said their trial was "an affront to justice and press freedom."