Parents of Swedish photographer Persson and Swedish ambassador to Ethiopia Odlander stand outside the courtroom in Ethiopia
The parents of Swedish photographer Johan Persson were joined by Jen Odlander, the Swedish ambassador to Ethiopia, outside the court in Addis Ababa.(Reuters)

Two Swedish journalists have been imprisoned for 11 years in Ethiopia on charges of supporting terrorism after entering the country illegally.

Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were arrested by Ethiopian troops in July during a clash with the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

They acknowledged during their trial that they had contact with ONLF leaders prior to entering the country from Somalia and that they met about 20 members of the group near the border.

Defence lawyer Abebe Balcha pointed out that the pair communicated with the rebels to gain access to the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, which is off-limits to journalists.

Human rights groups have criticised the convictions and said that the journalists were just doing their job.

"The sentence is a disgrace, a shame for Ethiopian justice," Ambroise Pierre, head of the Africa desk for Reporters Without Borders, told International Business Times UK.

"It's true that they were caught with the ONLF but there was not any proof that they were supporting the group."

Ethiopian law is very tough on terrorism, Pierre said.

"If a journalist is found with a terrorist organisation, he or she is automatically guilty of aiding terrorism."

"We regard this sentence as deplorable even if it did not surprise us after last week's decision by the court to find them guilty," said Jesper Bengtsson, president of Reporters Without Border's Swedish branch.

Schibbye and Persson wanted to report about the activities of the Swedish oil and gas company Lundin Petroleum in the Ogaden region, an ethnic Somali and Muslim area of Ethiopia.

Rebels have been fighting for independence since the 1970s with the ONLF in the vanguard of the fight.

One faction of the group signed a peace agreement with the government last year, while another splinter group has continued to fight the army.