Free after 14 months in prison
Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson spent 14 months imprisoned in Ethiopia before being pardoned and released on Monday.
The pair were arrested in July 2011 shortly after entering Ethiopia. Embedded with the guerilla group ONLF – which the Ethiopian government considers a terrorist organisation – the Swedes were headed into the conflict-ridden Ogaden province.
According Martin Schibbye's testimony to the Ethiopian court last year, they were there to report on the Swedish-owned company "Lundin Oil's plans to drill for oil in the Ogaden region." "Books had been written about this," Schibbye said, "but no one had been to the region to see what is happening."
In December 2011, the Schibbye and Persson were found guilty of supporting terrorism for traveling with the ONLF, and of entering Ethiopia illegally.
Judge Shemsu Sirgaga opted for 11-year sentences, less than the maximum of 18,5 years. The Swedes chose not to appeal, but rather wait for a pardon from the government.
"It could be a positive signal from the authorities, that they did not go for the 18,5 years that the prosecutor had asked for," Karin Schibbye, Martin Schibbye's mother, told Radio Sweden after the verdict. "But they are not terrorists, they are journalists. You can't accept it. It's so obviously wrong," she added.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt commented that the pair were in Ethiopia on a "journalistic assignment" and "must be released as soon as possible," while Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Sweden expressed "grave concern over" what he called a "hard sentence."
Bildt's involvement in the case has been especially controversial. Before becoming foreign minister in 2006, Bildt was a board member of Lundin Oil. The company receives protection from the Ethiopian military, which has been accused of human rights abuses in the Ogaden region. Many critics have said Bildt's ties to the company has skewed his involvement in the case.
Few details have emerged from the high-level talks have taken place between the Swedish and Ethiopian governments.
According to Dina Mufti, the Ethiopian foreign ministry's spokesperson, the late Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi had promised Bildt in March that the Swedes would be released, but that it would be in the traditional way in connection with a national holiday.
Kjell Persson, the father of Johan Persson, spoke to Radio Sweden in March but declined to comment on when he expected Schibbye and Persson to be pardoned.
"We do not know, that's the problem. It could be tomorrow, it could be in six months' time," he told Radio Sweden.
Physical exercise, reading, writing and games of chess were favourite passtimes for the Swedes while in jail. "It's tough, but they are doing well. They eat a lot and they exercise," Persson said.
The role of Zenawi, has been central to previous pardon decisions. Experts therefore thought Schibbye and Persson's release would be pushed back after Meles Zenawi's death in August.
But late Monday afternoon, as Ethiopia prepared to celebrate the new year the following day, their release was confirmed by the Ethiopian government.
By Sven Hultberg Carlsson