No, Tucker Carlson, Sweden doesn’t imprison people for ‘unpopular opinions’

Following the deba­te on Swedish cri­mi­nal sta­tistics, after a Fox News seg­ment in Tucker Carlson tonight, Tucker Carlson him­self inter­vi­ewed jour­na­list Ann-Sofie Näslund from Swedish news­pa­per Expressen.

During the inter­vi­ew, Tucker Carlson made a few sta­te­ments that we recog­ni­se main­ly from neo-Nazi pro­pa­gan­da, whe­re it’s clai­med that Sweden is a dicta­tors­hip that punishes dis­si­dents.

Tucker Carlson said:

..becau­se in Sweden .. you can be punished, you can be impri­so­ned giving an unpo­pu­lar opi­ni­on. In a soci­e­ty that practi­ces cen­sors­hip like that, are people free to real­ly say what they think?

When Ann-Sofie Näslund poin­ted out that tho­se who are main­ly sub­jec­ted to such cri­mi­nal pro­cee­dings are neo-Nazis who spre­ad grueso­me anti semi­tic pro­pa­gan­da, Carlson con­ti­nu­ed:

But there’s still people expres­sing their poli­ti­cal opi­ni­on who’ve gone to pri­son for tho­se opi­ni­ons!

The cri­mi­na­li­sa­tion he is refer­ring to is pro­bably what’s inter­na­tio­nal­ly known as inci­te­ment to raci­al and eth­ni­cal hat­red and hate spee­ch. 

The Swedish term is hets mot folk­grupp (agi­ta­tion against a natio­nal or eth­nic group).

It’s impor­tant to point out that the cri­mi­na­li­sa­tion in ques­tion exists in simi­lar forms in most democra­ci­es, inclu­ding e g France, Finland and the United Kingdom.

This is in com­pli­an­ce with a UN con­ven­tion (se below).

No one is imprisoned for ‘unpopular opinions’

The clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the cri­me can be read in the 16th chap­ter, sec­tion 8 of the Swedish Penal Code.

Section 8
A per­son who, in a dis­se­mi­na­ted sta­te­ment or com­mu­ni­ca­tion, thre­a­tens or expres­ses con­tempt for a natio­nal, eth­nic or other such group of per­sons with allu­sion to race, colour, natio­nal or eth­nic ori­gin or reli­gi­ous beli­ef shall, be sen­tenced for agi­ta­tion against a natio­nal or eth­nic group to impri­son­ment for at most two years or, if the cri­me is pet­ty, to a fine. (Law 1988:835)

Criticism of immi­gra­tion poli­ci­es, poli­ti­cal discus­sions about immi­grants and mino­ri­ti­es, are not sub­jec­ted to this rule. 

Freedom of spee­ch in Sweden allows for unpo­pu­lar and even offen­si­ve opi­ni­ons to be utte­red.

The cur­rent deba­te in Sweden is self evi­dent in this regard.

The tar­get of the cri­mi­na­li­sa­tion is qui­te nar­row and free­dom of spee­ch, as it’s sta­ted in the Swedish con­sti­tu­tion and the European Convention on Human Rights (which is integ­ra­ted in Swedish law), is always taken into account in the aut­ho­ri­ti­es’ and court’s assess­ments of alle­ged cases of agi­ta­tion against a natio­nal or eth­nic group.

The typi­cal case of agi­ta­tion against a natio­nal or eth­nic group in Sweden con­si­sts of Hitler salu­tes, glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of the geno­ci­dal poli­ci­es of nazi Germany, racist pro­pa­gan­da that paints mino­ri­ty groups as “para­si­tes” or inci­tes vio­lence and other cri­mes against mino­ri­ti­es.

Furthermore, if the cri­me has in fact been com­mitted, pri­son sen­tences are rare.

In Swedish penal law the main rule is that other options than pri­son should be pre­fer­red by the court. In cases of agi­ta­tion against a natio­nal or eth­nic group, the abso­lu­te majo­ri­ty of the cases ends up with a fine.

Prison sen­tences for the­se cri­mes are rare and usu­al­ly come into ques­tion after repe­a­ted offences con­si­s­ting of lar­ge amounts of mate­ri­al. We don’t have man­da­to­ry mini­mums, with draco­ni­an sen­tences, for pet­ty cri­mes in Sweden.

When it comes to the poli­ce­man Peter Springare, that Tucker Carlson men­tions in the inter­vi­ew abo­ve, he was in fact repor­ted for agi­ta­tion against a natio­nal or eth­nic group. The inve­sti­ga­tion was however drop­ped almost imme­di­a­tely. Such are the pro­cee­dings in Sweden – all reports are inve­sti­ga­ted and then drop­ped if no cri­me is evi­dent. This is not evi­dence of supp­res­sion of unpo­pu­lar views. If Tucker Carlson him­self would report this post to Swedish aut­ho­ri­ti­es, the pro­cess would be simi­lar.

The law is based on the experiences from WWII

Photo by Boris Tylevich licen­sed accor­ding to CC BY 2.0

It’s kind of iro­nic that an American says he’s puzz­led by a pie­ce of Swedish legis­la­tion that ori­gi­nal­ly came about in the 1940’s, part­ly due to requests by the US govern­ment to stop the spre­a­ding of anti semi­tic mate­ri­al from Sweden by the infa­mous book­sel­ler Einar Åberg.

Åberg was a major sour­ce of anti semi­tic mate­ri­al that con­ti­nu­ed to spre­ad over the world after World War II and Åberg main­tai­ned con­tacts with the Ku Klux Klan in the US.

The Swedish cri­mi­na­li­sa­tion of inci­te­ment to raci­al hat­red in 1948 was the­re­fo­re refer­red to as Lex Åberg and the book­sel­ler him­self was the first per­son to be con­vic­ted for the cri­me.

The cri­mi­na­li­sa­tion is also to a gre­at extent based on the expe­ri­ences from World War II and the holocaust.

The legis­la­tor wri­tes in the pre­pa­ra­to­ry works for the ori­gi­nal rule (Kungl. Maj:t prop. 1948:80 s 443) that the cri­mi­na­li­sa­tion is nee­ded to pro­tect the pea­ce­ful, democra­tic soci­e­ty by restricting the hate­ful pro­pa­gan­da that cre­a­tes the neces­sa­ry con­di­tions for per­secu­tion and exter­mi­na­tion of mino­ri­ti­es tar­ge­ted by the hate­ful pro­pa­gan­da.

We have also more recent­ly seen the con­se­quences of pub­lic inci­te­ment to raci­al hat­red in Rwanda. The radio chan­nel Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines play­ed a sig­ni­fi­cant role in inci­ting and coor­di­na­ting the geno­ci­de that resul­ted in the kil­ling of more than 800 000 people.

This under­li­nes the need for pro­tecti­ve legis­la­tion.

The law is consistent with a UN Convention

United nations flag – Photo by Sanjitbakshi licen­sed accor­ding to CC BY 2.0

States are furt­her­mo­re obli­ga­ted to cri­mi­na­li­se inci­te­ment to raci­al hate­red by a UN Convention, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, ini­ti­a­ted by the UN General Assembly with entry into for­ce the 4th of January 1969.

(a) [States] Shall decla­re an offence punisha­ble by law all dis­se­mi­na­tion of ide­as based on raci­al supe­ri­o­ri­ty or hat­red, inci­te­ment to raci­al discri­mi­na­tion, as well as all acts of vio­lence or inci­te­ment to such acts against any race or group of per­sons of anot­her colour or eth­nic ori­gin, and also the pro­vi­sion of any assistan­ce to racist acti­vi­ti­es, inclu­ding the finan­ci­ng the­re­of;

Sweden has actu­al­ly been cri­ti­ci­sed by UN bodi­es for not ful­fil­ling some of the pro­vi­sions of the con­ven­tion, main­ly becau­se we haven’t cri­mi­na­li­sed racist orga­ni­sa­tions in accor­dan­ce with the following:

(b) Shall decla­re ille­gal and pro­hi­bit orga­ni­za­tions, and also orga­ni­zed and all other pro­pa­gan­da acti­vi­ti­es, which pro­mo­te and inci­te raci­al discri­mi­na­tion, and shall recog­ni­ze par­ti­ci­pa­tion in such orga­ni­za­tions or acti­vi­ti­es as an offence punisha­ble by law;

The Swedish govern­ment main­tains the opi­ni­on that our cri­mi­na­li­sa­tion of inci­te­ment to raci­al hat­red is suf­fi­ci­ent to ful­fil the obli­ga­tions in the con­ven­tion.

Next time Tucker Carlson want’s to talk about Swedish law, he should do his homework pro­per­ly.

For example he could spe­ak to Swedish legal watch­dog Juridikfronten, which spe­ci­a­li­ses in cri­mes con­si­s­ting of inci­te­ment to raci­al hat­red and hate spee­ch

Hanna Lundkvist, law stu­dent at Umeå uni­ver­si­ty

The fea­tu­red pictu­re of this post is Tucker Carlson by Gage Skidmore licen­sed accor­ding to CC BY-SA 2.0.

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