Capital Ethiopia Newspaper

EPRDF elites to ponder Swedish journalists’ clemency

The case of two jailed Swedish journalists, who are to submit a pardon request, is likely to surface as an agenda item at the leadership forum of the ruling party, a top government official said on Thursday.
“What kind of response they will get to their request for pardon is anybody’s guess. Anyone who tells you otherwise would be lying,” said the top government official who also assumes a senior role at the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) leadership.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said ‘it is good’ for the journalists to admit their guilt but stopped short of predicting what it may result in. “Such cases are usually decided in deliberations at the executive committee of the party,” the official added.
The federal court in December convicted and subsequently sentenced the two Swedish journalists, reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson, to 11 years imprisonment over charges of entering the country illegally and helping the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).  They are now serving their sentence in Kaliti prison.
In a nascent development that may secure the two journalists’ release, their spokesperson earlier this week said the two intend to seek a pardon instead of appeals to higher courts.
“There’s a tradition of pardoning and forgiving in Ethiopia and we choose to trust in this tradition,” said the spokesperson Anna Roxvall in a statement emailed to international news agencies.
According to the government official the request has not been submitted yet. The journalists’ Ethiopian lawyers declined to comment on Friday.
As per the 2004 law Proclamation to Provide for the Procedure of Granting Pardon, ‘Any person who is convicted and sentenced by a court may, unless the granting of pardon is prohibited by law, apply for a pardon in person or through their spouse, close relatives, representative or lawyer.’
A law expert on Friday told Capital that no legislation including the antiterrorism law prohibits people convicted of terrorism charges from asking for a pardon.
According to the expert, the two Swedish journalists can ask for a pardon as early this week as the law allows them to do so “at any time after the sentence”. “Even if their first clemency request is rejected, they may seek it again and again every six months should they wish do so,” the expert said.
Pardon requests are submitted to the Board of Pardon chaired by the Justice Minister and would be decided by majority votes there. The board submits “recommendations” to the republic’s president who has the final say.
A senior medical doctor assigned by the Ministry of Health, a senior social work expert assigned by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, representative of the Ministry of Federal Affairs (one or two), representative of the Federal Prison Commission and one or two people chosen by the President upon recommendation by the board itself as ‘representatives of the society’ are members of the Board of Pardon, according to the 2004 legislation.
In recent years Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government has approved high profile pardons including to opposition group leaders, and some journalists and civil society personnel who were convicted in connection to the post election violence in 2005.
“We note that Tigrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) leader Meles always welcomed reporters who were embedded with them in the bush. Therefore the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) believes charges of support to terrorism are baseless. Having been handed such severe prison terms after such a politicized trial that lacked fundamental principles of fairness, our colleagues just want to go home and we call on the Ethiopian government to release them unconditionally,” Mohamed Keita, advocacy coordinator for the group’s Africa program, said in an emailed statement to Capital.
During the trial the two journalists have acknowledged illegally entering to Ethiopia but denied supporting ONLF, claiming that they were gathering news about a Swedish oil company exploring Ethiopia’s Somali region for oil.