Two Swedish journalists arrested in Ethiopia pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of terrorism but admitted to violating immigration laws.
Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were captured by Ethiopian troops in July during a clash with rebels in the country's restive eastern region. Journalists are prohibited from traveling freely in the region, also called the Ogaden, which borders Somalia.
The pair are charged with terrorism for associating with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, a rebel group listed as a terrorist group under Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law. They risk up to 15 years imprisonment.
"Your honor, I am a journalist and my job is to gather news. I am guilty of entering Ethiopia illegally, but I am not guilty of the other activities I am charged of," Schibbye said on Thursday during a preliminary hearing at Ethiopia's Federal High Court.
"I entered the country illegally and nothing else," Persson added.
One of their lawyers, Abebe Balcha, said that he hasn't seen the full evidence against them yet. But the judge said that he would be given access to the evidence, which allegedly includes a video where the two handle weapons, when it is presented in court.
Schibbye's mother, Karin Schibbye, said she was able to visit her son in prison last Friday. She said the conditions are "horrible," the prison is overcrowded and her son has to sleep on a concrete floor.
The Swedish government has been doing all it can to help release the two, said Sweden's ambassador to Ethiopia, Jens Odlander.
"I would take it as a personal insult if you would say that we haven't done enough," he said.
The terrorism trial will start Nov. 1. It is expected to take up to six months.
The initial preliminary hearing started on Oct. 18 but was postponed because two Somali defendants arrested with the Swedes were not able to get a lawyer. They were appointed public defenders instead.