Sweden must do more to combat hate crimes
Görel Granström & Karin Åström’s Lifecycle of a Hate Crime – Country Report for Sweden (2017) is an eye-opener. Granström is an associate professor at the Department of Law, Umeå University, while Åström, who was a university lecturer in 2017, is also an associate professor at the same university.
Both should be exemplary of academic honesty.
According to the authors, measures against hate crimes, which are crimes motivated by bias, have been defined as a priority issue in Sweden since the mid-1990s. The Swedish government has stated that these crimes are seen as a violation of human rights and as such important to combat.
Since 2016, the Swedish government has implemented a national plan against racism, similar forms of hostility and hate crimes. The national plan states the following:
“Effective measures against racism and hate crimes contribute to the goal of ensuring full respect for Sweden’s international human rights. Fighting racism and similar forms of hostility prevents the risk of the individual’s rights being violated.”
Despite the fact that a significant majority of the state prosecutors interviewed for the report believe that hate crimes “are an increasingly large part of Swedish society and that the legal system has become better at identifying these crimes”, there were still very few cases that led to prosecution. and conviction.
Take the example of insult crime, a common hate crime. A prosecutor explained that although abuse is something that is often reported, it is possible to say that many of these reports do not lead to prosecution simply because of the way the law is designed, where they are only designated as a general prosecution in exceptional cases. attack.”
The legislation dealing with agitation against a national or ethnic group and the law criminalizing unlawful discrimination – again hate crimes – are rarely used. According to Granström and Åström, everyone interviewed for the report – judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers – stated that they almost never dealt with cases of illegal discrimination, and that cases of incitement against a national or ethnic group were rarely brought to court.
One of the prosecutors explained why prosecutors were reluctant to prosecute measures under the legislation on agitation against a national or ethnic group as follows:
“I make the judgment that when it comes to agitation against a national or ethnic group I tend to prosecute… but there is quite a lot of caution, too much caution in using this legislation because of the relationship with freedom of speech and opinion.
“And of course it’s important, absolutely basic rights that you shouldn’t manipulate, but at the same time there are rules that certain opinions may not be expressed.”
The above is somewhat in line with what a minority of the judges referred to as a “hassle” having to deal with hate crime cases. One of the judges interviewed explained:
“This is a hell of a mess… [W]I think the dilemma is the balance between freedom of expression and the right of vulnerable groups to be protected, not to be victimized. [T]hat is difficult.”
A significant majority of prosecutors found it difficult to prosecute a crime as a hate crime. From their experience, there are two aspects to these difficulties.
First, the prosecution needed to present evidence both regarding the requirements for the actual crime, intent to commit the crime and also about the motive behind it. So it was a double burden. Secondly, it was difficult to prove the motivation as a motive is rarely seen.
The few cases that went on to prosecution may explain why all the judges interviewed said they had very little experience dealing with hate crimes and could only recall a handful when asked about them.
Even the prosecutors (and some of the defense attorneys) said that judges weren’t always very good at handling hate crime cases.
The authors wrote:
“A significant majority of the legal actors considered that the legislation around hate crimes is sufficient and that problems in Sweden have more to do with implementation, that is, how the legislation is used or rather not used.
“There is also the issue of the legislation on unlawful discrimination and agitation against a national or ethnic group, two provisions that are almost never used. Hardly any of the prosecutors interviewed mentioned prosecuting cases of unlawful discrimination, and when they talked about the crime of incitement, almost all stated that the statute was difficult to use.”
Accordingly, the authors recommended that legislation on unlawful discrimination and agitation against a national or ethnic group should be critically evaluated with a focus on examining why it is used so rarely, and how it could be amended to enable more effective enforcement.
Sweden regularly reports data on hate crimes to the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), an agency under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Hate crime reports are published every two years.
ODIHR has acknowledged Sweden’s efforts to tackle hate crime in a comprehensive manner, as well as information provided to ODIHR about the overall hate crime situation in the country. However, based on available information, it has also been observed that Sweden has not reported data on hate crimes recorded by the judiciary to the ODIHR. In other words, it has not reported on state prosecutions of hate crimes.
In August 2020, Aftonbladet reported that several Islamophobic Islam activities had taken place in Malmö, including three men kicking a copy of the Koran between them in a public square.
The Islamophobic protests occurred after Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line, was denied permission to hold a meeting in Malmö and was stopped at the Swedish border. A riot broke out as counter-demonstrators gathered to protest the Islamophobic activity.
Riots broke out two years later in 2022 after a demonstration organized by Paludan, once again. He had permission for a series of demonstrations across Sweden during the Easter weekend. At the time, Paludan was already known for Koran burnings.
According to media reports, Paludan burned a copy of the Koran in a densely populated Muslim area of the country.
If only Paludan had been put on trial for hate crimes instead of being given permission to demonstrate outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm where he once again burned a copy of the Koran, Sweden would not have come under harsh condemnation from the entire Arab and Islamic world.
It is a world of more than two billion people.
Sweden must do more to combat hate crimes by bringing the perpetrators of hate crimes to justice.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.