'Sweden needs to punish political threats': minister
Published: 17 Jan 2014 14:59 GMT+01:00
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"In today's society with the often very harsh comments in social media, there is a risk of desensitization," Democracy and EU Affairs Minister Birgitta Ohlsson told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper on Friday. "I think it's extremely dangerous. Politicians should be able to stomach a tough debate climate, but no one should have to put up with being threatened."
The government announced on Friday that it would appoint a committee to look at ways to tackle violence directed at democratically elected politicians. A similar review took place in 2006, but observers noted that many of its recommendations were simply left to collect dust on a shelf somewhere.
Ohlsson's government colleague and Justice Minister Beatrice Ask has previously said she thought Sweden's laws were strict enough when it came to illegal threats. In recent months, however, two local politicians have been subjected to attacks. One was assaulted in her home by an attacker believed to be incensed by the closure of smaller village schools in the municipality. The second was a Sweden Democrat politician whose home was targeted with explosives. No one was hurt in the incident.
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Ohlsson told DN she hoped that the new review would unite the four-party government coalition to take further action.
Norrköping chief prosecutor Torsten Angervåg will now collect data on how the Swedish justice system has handled threats and violence motivated by political opinions. While there is a specific law that condemns threats against publicly elected officials and politicians, it remained unclear if that law was put to use in the courtroom.
"There's a knowledge gap that we need to fill," the democracy minister commented. "Now we'll have an idea of what the verdicts in these cases has been."
National Crime Prevention Council statistics from 2011 showed that one quarter of Sweden's politicians have at some point been subjected to threats or to harassment. The situation, Ohlsson said, could threaten democracy in Sweden.
"Democracy is founded on people's courage to get involved," she told DN.