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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