An article by the leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats claiming that Islam is the biggest threat to Sweden since World War II is tantamount to hate speech, according to legal experts.
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A number of jurists believe the text, published in the opinion section of the Aftonbladet newspaper, qualifies as agitation against an ethnic group (hets mot folkgrupp).
The Sweden Democrats concluded their annual congress on Sunday in the town of Ljungbyhed in Skåne in southern Sweden.
On Monday, Aftonbladet published an opinion piece by party leader Jimmie Åkesson in which the prominent far-right politician slams Islam.
According to Åkesson, “today’s multicultural Swedish power-elite are totally blind to the dangers of Islam.”
He goes on to claim that more than ten Muslim terrorist organizations have established themselves in Sweden, that Sweden has the most rapes in Europe, and that Muslim men are highly overrepresented among the perpetrators.
“As a Sweden Democrat, I see this as our greatest external threat since World War II and I promise to use all my power to change the trend during next year’s election,” writes Åkesson.
Åkesson’s claims prompted academics and legal experts to draw parallels between the Sweden Democrats and the Nazis.
“This is the same sort of propaganda as the Nazis’ anti-Semitism,” said Jan Hjärpe, an emeritus professor of Islamic Studies at Lund University, to Aftonbladet.
“This also has racist undertones, because the rhetoric assumes that religious affiliation determines how a person acts.”
Several leading lawyers who spoke with Aftonbladet believe the article borders on qualifying as agitation against an ethnic group.
“I think that the Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern – JK) should prosecute it. The article is uniformly directed against and is hateful toward Muslims as a group,” said attorney and media expert Peter Danowsky.
“To single out an entire religion as the greatest external threat is very close to agitation against an ethnic group,” attorney Peter Althin told Aftonbladet.
“A tough jury assessing the boundaries of free speech would condemn this article. It’s an expression of disrespect towards Muslims as a group,” said Per Hultengård, a lawyer with the Swedish Newspaper Publishers’ Association (Tidningsutgivarna).
But Chancellor of Justice Göran Lambertz said he has no plans to launch a preliminary investigation himself as to whether Åkesson’s article violates Swedish rules governing the freedom of expression.
“This isn’t an obvious case of agitation against an ethnic group. If it had been, I would have launched an investigation myself. But I’ll probably receive complaints about the article and then I’ll look more closely into the matter,” Lambertz told TT.
One controversial claim in Åkesson’s article is that Sweden has more rapes than any other country in Europe.
According to Sweden’s National Crime Prevention Council (Brottsförebyggande rådet – BRÅ), researchers agree that it’s impossible to assess and compare the actual number of violent crimes and rapes across different countries by comparing the number of crimes reported to police.
“The differences between countries’ judicial systems and their systems for gathering statistics regarding crimes reported to police isn’t just big – it’s really big,” council head Jan Andersson wrote last spring in comments on an EU study on the matter.
“Firstly, we in Sweden have an obvious legal definition of what is considered rape. That means that more cases in Sweden are tried and registered as rape than in many other countries. Secondly, we in Sweden began putting a lot of effort into registering all cases which could be suspected of being rape at a very early stage in the process, which means that we even count cases which later turn out to be some other sexually-related crime, no crime at all, et cetera.”
In Sweden, every individual act reported to police is registered, not just the most recent or primary criminal act. In many other countries, authorities want and remove many cases from statistics.
There is also no basis for Åkesson’s claim that Muslim men are overrepresented among rapists.
“I haven’t seen any scientific articles dealing with this which have reached that conclusion. It’s based on an assumption,” Brå researcher Klara Hradilova Selin told TT.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said Åkesson’s article makes clear what the Sweden Democrats want to achieve.
“They have an interest and that’s to differentiate between people, to create an us-against-them way of thinking, cast suspicion on ‘them’ and in that way lay the groundwork for policies by which ‘they’ are thrown out or deported,” Reinfeldt said at an informal press conference on the margins of a Monday morning visit to Gothenburg University.
“Every attempt by those in power to single out the right religion or right nationality, right sexual preference, has always ended horribly. Because as soon as practical policies are to be made using that approach, a dividing up of people begins which is neither manageable nor desirable.”