Ethiopia: Swedish journos' trial delayed

2011-10-18 12:05
Addis Ababa - Two Swedish journalists arrived in an Ethiopian court on Tuesday for the start of their trial on terrorism charges, but the hearing was pushed back until Thursday, their lawyer said.

Photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, both freelancers, have been held in jail since they were arrested on July 1 with Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels after a battle with government troops.

However, the trial was delayed to allow lawyers to be appointed for two fellow co-accused, Somalis who Addis Ababa accuses of crossing with the Swedes and the ONLF illegally into Ethiopia.

"The first and second defendant were not represented by law," defence lawyer Sileshi Ketsela told reporters outside the courtroom, adding that a public defence lawyer would be appointed for the two Somalis.

"We were supposed to present our objections to the charges... but since it has to be heard together with the other defendants it was postponed," Sileshi added.

An AFP reporter at the court said the Swedes, dressed in collared shirts, smiled at the court room, packed with around a hundred people.

As they left the courtroom, Schibbye - who turned 31 on Monday - blew a kiss to the crowd, which was mostly foreigners.

The ONLF, formed in 1984, has been fighting for the independence of the remote southeastern Ogaden, populated mainly by ethnic Somalis, which the rebels say has been marginalised by Addis Ababa.

The Swedes were charged last month with being engaged in terrorist activities, aiding and abetting a terrorist group, and entering the country illegally without permission from neighbouring Somalia.

Rights groups have already criticised the process of the trial, after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said in an interview last week that the Swedes were "at the very least messenger boys of a terrorist organisation".

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