By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - An Ethiopian court found two Swedish journalists guilty on Wednesday of helping and promoting the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebel group, and entering the Horn of Africa nation illegally.
Reporter Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were arrested in July after they entered Ethiopia's Ogaden province from Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region with a team of ONLF fighters.
Sentencing is due next week and the prosecution asked for a combined sentence of 18 years 6 months for both charges.
Sileshi Ketsela, one of the defense lawyers, said they would now discuss with their clients about whether to appeal.
Addis Ababa has blacklisted the ONLF as a terrorist group, and its recently-adopted anti-terrorism legislation outlaws promotion of the insurgents' activities.
The two Swedes had also been charged with terrorism but were acquitted in November on that count as the court did not believe they were involved in carrying out any attacks. They did admit to crossing the border without a permit.
Judge Shemsu Sirgaga told the court the two journalists had entered Ethiopia illegally under the pretext of investigating the impact of potential oil discoveries and production in the region on the local population.
"Instead they accompanied the ONLF into the country and were caught alongside the rebels. This contradicts their claims," he said in handing down the guilty verdict.
The freelance journalists say they were covering the ONLF as a news story and deny assisting their cause.
During the November trial, prosecutors screened a three-hour video they said was obtained from one of the Swedes' laptops, showing footage of them hoisting rifles alongside armed men and being briefed over a map on how to infiltrate the region.
(Editing by David Clarke and Peter Graff)