ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Two Swedish journalists who have been imprisoned in Ethiopia for more than a year have been pardoned and are set to be freed at an upcoming mass amnesty ceremony, a top government official said Monday.
The decision to pardon photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye had been approved by the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge this information ahead of the event.
The official said the journalists have shown remorse and have asked for a pardon.
"Considering their request for pardon and the fact that they demonstrated a good behavior while serving their sentence, the government under the Prime Minister Meles had accepted their pardon request. It was never an intention of the government to see them languish in jail."
The Ethiopian government has over the years released hundreds of prisoners in a ceremony timed to coincide with the start of the new year according to Ethiopia's calendar.
Persson and Schibbye have been in jail since July 2011, when they were arrested while trying to cross from Somalia into Ethiopia along with fighters from the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front, which Ethiopia classifies as a terrorist group.
Last December the journalists were sentenced to 11 years for abetting terrorism and entering the country illegally. They denied the terror charges, saying they were in Ethiopia simply to do their work as journalists. Their jailing was condemned by rights watchdogs such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, which said their trial was "an affront to justice and press freedom."
The journalists are likely to be released this week, the government official said.