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Following Ethiopian PM's death

Bleaker outlook for jailed Swedes

Published tisdag 21 augusti 2012 kl 08.45
"It likely postpones the pardon process"
(4:09 min)
Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi. Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson. Photo: Scanpix/ Swedish Radio

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a key player in the attempt to free the two Swedish journalists imprisoned in Ethiopia, has been reported as dead by Ethiopian state television. Radio Sweden spoke to Kjetil Tronvoll, an Ethiopian expert with the International Law and Policy Institute in Oslo, Norway. 

Since the journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were sentenced in December of 2011, Swedish officials had been in personal contact with the prime minister regarding pardoning the two Swedes.

However, Zenawi had not made a public appearance since June of this year and now there is concern in Sweden about what affect his death will have on the ongoing process.

Kjetil Tronvoll, an expert on Ethiopian politics and a professor at the International Law and Policy Institute in Oslo told Radio Sweden he is worried that the prime minister's death will cause unrest and confusion in the country.

Tronvoll said the question of the two imprisoned Swedes may not be prioritized over other more pressing state matters, and that the process of freeing them could be further delayed. He also said that Zenawi was the member of parliament who was most in favour of helping the Swedes.

"Unfortunately I think this will slow down their pardon. It is very unlikely that a transition leader will sign the pardon papers. They will probably have to wait until a permanent leader is elected", said Tronvall.

"We will have to hope that the new leader of Ethiopia is willing to compromise and is interested in Ethiopia's international reputation, and will sign the pardon papers."

The two Swedish journalists were apprehended in July 2011 after travelling into Ethiopia's troubled Ogaden region with local rebels who are classified as terrorists by the government.

After a confrontation with Ethiopian troops, the two journalists were detained and later transferred to capital Addis Ababa, where they were found guilty for supporting terrorists and sentenced to eleven years in prison.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt commented on Zenawi's death by tweeting:

"Africa has lost a strong and important leader in PM Meles Zenawi. We all want to help Ethiopia in meeting the challenges of its future."

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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