Freed Swedish journalists say faced mock execution in Ethiopia
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Two Swedish journalists pardoned by Ethiopia after spending 11 months in jail for aiding a rebel group said on Friday they had been subjected to a mock execution, and accused the country of using anti-terrorism laws to stifle journalism.
Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were arrested in July 2011 after entering the country from neighboring Somalia with fighters from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebel group.
They said they had wanted to report on the effect of the work of a Swedish oil company on the local population and political situation in Ethiopia's Ogaden region and that the only way of entering the area was with the rebels' help. The journalists were pardoned and released on Monday.
Schibbye said Ethiopian security officials had tried to get them to confess to being terrorists after their arrest. He said they were taken into the desert where one official pulled him out of a jeep, told him "No more Mr. Nice Guy" and ordered him to start talking.
"A soldier lifted up his weapon," Schibbye told a news conference in Stockholm. But instead off shooting him, the soldier shot into a bush beside him, he said.
Persson said he had been taken off in another direction and thought his colleague had been killed.
The men said they had been forced to make an apology on Ethiopian television in order to secure their release. Schibbye said he had not meant what he had said.
Ethiopian government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Schibbye and Persson were sentenced to 11 years in jail by an Ethiopian court in December for helping and promoting the ONLF. Some of Ethiopia's Western allies, including the European Union and United States, said they were concerned over the verdict.
The pair were acquitted of terrorism-related charges after the court found they were not involved in carrying out any attacks.
The men were pardoned along with more than 1,900 other inmates. Addis Ababa often grants mass pardons and announces the decisions ahead of major holidays, in particular the Ethiopian New Year which is celebrated on September 11.
Schibbye criticized Ethiopia's anti-terrorism laws, saying they were aimed at stifling freedom of speech. "We should never forget that it is an international scandal that we were condemned to 11 years in jail for doing our job," he said.
The government of the Horn of Africa country denies such allegations and has said its arrests of journalists have nothing to do with their reporting or political affiliations.
(Reporting by Patrick Lannin; Editing by Pravin Char)
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