Two Swedish journalists pleaded not guilty in an Ethiopian court to terrorism charges after they were caught with rebels in the country’s Ogaden region in July.
Reporters Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye entered the province from neighbouring Somalia with a group of fighters from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). They were subsequently wounded in a security operation which killed 15 rebels.
Addis Ababa then charged them with promoting and participating in terrorist acts, as well as illegally entering the country without a permit, Reuters reports.
“Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye pleaded not guilty today in a court,” said Abebe Balcha, the duo’s lawyer.
Both journalists, however, admitted to entering the country without proper documentation, Abebe told Reuters.
The case has drawn criticism from media watchdogs, which have called for all charges to be dropped against the reporters.
“We submitted a preliminary objection for clarifications on every aspect of the case but the court rejected it,” Abebe said.
The two will next appear in court on November 1.
Addis Ababa has blacklisted the ONLF as a terrorist group, and its recently-adopted anti-terror legislation outlaws promotion of the insurgents’ activities.
The rebel group has blamed authorities in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, which enjoys close ties with Addis Ababa, for the journalists’ arrest. They say Puntland notified Ethiopia of their movements.
More commonly known as the Ogaden, the ethnic Somali dominated province is home to a low key insurgency led by the group, which has fought for independence since 1984.
Apart from the rebellion, the arid region has also been the scene of a handful of kidnappings and banditry incidents during the past four years.
Ethiopian forces waged an offensive against the rebels in late 2007 after the group attacked a Chinese-run oil facility, killing 74 people.
Analysts say the rebels have since weakened but are still able to launch hit-and-run attacks.
Ethiopia says the Ogaden basin may contain 4 trillion cubic feet of gas and major oil deposits, but the rebels have warned of attacks against foreign firms which are working in the region.