Two Swedish journalists found guilty [Bloomberg report] last week in an Ethiopian court of supporting terrorism and entering the country illegally [Al Jazeera, video report] were sentenced Tuesday to 11 years in prison. The journalists contended that they traveled into the country with the designated terrorist group Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) [official website] in order to gain access to an area restricted to journalists [BBC report] and that their mission was to investigate a Swedish oil company, Lundin Petroleum [official website]. The judge did not find the journalists' explanation [Voice of America report] of why they illegally entered the country with the rebel group to be credible. ONLF condemned the sentencing [ONLF press release] as a "heinous" and "unjust" act conducted to "frighten and terrorize the international correspondents for investigating the blatant violation of the Human Rights of the people of Ogaden." The journalists faced a maximum sentence of 18 years in prison under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 [text]. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] condemned the journalists' trial as unfair and called on Ethiopia to immediately release the journalists and drop all charges. Amnesty International [advocacy website] also called for their release [press release]. The journalists are faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to appeal or to ask for a pardon that requires admitting guilt [CNN report].
Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law has faced ongoing criticism since it was passed [JURIST report] in 2009. HRW has said [press release] that Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law is "fundamentally flawed and being used to repress legitimate reporting." In August, JURIST guest columnist and former executive director Abigail Salisbury argued that the government is using the law to suppress journalists and opposition groups in order to maintain its hold on power [JURIST op-ed]. In July, HRW called on the Ethiopian government to stop using the law to repress free speech [JURIST report].