Ethiopia to free Swedish journalists imprisoned on terrorism charges, official says

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Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye (left) and Johan Persson (right). They currently are scheduled for trial in Ethiopia Thursday on terrorism charges.

Ethiopia has pardoned two Swedish journalists imprisoned for more than a year on terrorism charges, an Ethiopian government official has said.

Photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye from Sweden are to be freed at a mass amnesty ceremony, likely this week, the unnamed official said, according to a report today from the Associated Press

The pardon had been approved by Ethiopia's late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for reasons including good behavior, the official told the AP.

"It was never an intention of the government to see them languish in jail," the government official said.

Meles died last month at the age of 57 while seeking treatment at a hospital in Brussels. Under his rule, Ethiopia prosecuted numerous journalists and political opponents.

More from GlobalPost: Meles Zenawi dead: Ethiopia's prime minister dies in Brussels at age 57

In December 2011, an Ethiopian court sentenced the two Swedish journalists to 11 years each of "rigorous imprisonment" for supporting terrorism and illegally entering Ethiopia.

Persson and Schibbye were arrested in July 2011 while traveling with rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which Ethiopia considers a terrorist group.

The trial and conviction of the Swedish journalists was widely criticized by rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Meles Zenawi had denied the Swedes are journalists, accusing them of being “messenger boys of a terrorist organization."

In June, Eskinder Nega, a well-known Ethiopian journalist, was among 24 people found guilty of terrorism charges.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called the charges against Eskinder "baseless and politically-motivated in reprisal for his writings."

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