Freivalds exposed over Muhammad letter

Former foreign minister Laila Freivalds sent a letter to Yemen in connection with last year's furore surrounding the publication of caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Freivalds’ press secretary had previously denied that any such communication had taken place, but the letter has now been found.

Information emerged in March 2006 suggesting that the Swedish foreign minister had written a letter to her counterpart in Yemen about the crisis surrounding the publication of controversial illustrations on the Sweden Democrat party’s website.

“I cannot comment today on particulars from the considerable amount of work done to protect Swedish lives and interests in that context,” said Freivalds on Tuesday evening.

It was newspaper Riksdag & Departement that traced the “disappeared” letter and published it on its website.

The letter was first sent to the Swedish embassy in Saudi Arabia. The Swedish ambassador in Riyadh, Åke Karlsson, then forwarded the letter to the foreign minister of Yemen on February 11th. He also attached his own a note explaining what had happened in the intervening two days.

Freivalds’ letter was written on the same day that pressure from the government resulted in the closure of the Sweden Democrats’ site.

“Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed in Sweden, as is freedom of speech and media. This includes an absolute prohibition against censorship. But this freedom entails responsibility and respect for other freedoms and all – media, politicians, individuals – must use it in a respectful way,” wrote Freivalds.

The foreign minister later resigned when it emerged that the governemt had not respected Sweden’s “absolute prohibition against censorship”.

“For your information I like to add that the latest development with regard to the group Sverigedemokraterna is that its web-site has been closed down. Furthermore the group has retracted its scandalous caricature contest,” Åke Karlsson wrote in his accompanying note.

The ambassador does not make any mention of what brought about the closure of the website.

Freivalds now says that large quantities of information explaining Swedish press freedoms, as well as the country’s stance with regard to the Muhammad caricatures, were sent out to Muslim countries from the foreign ministry in Stockholm.

The foreign minister would not comment further on the relevant documentation, to which she no longer has access.

She was unable to explain the denial made by her former press secretary.

“I don’t know anything about his statement,” she said.

The controversial caricatures were first published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in autumn 2005.

In the months following the publication a wave of violent protests swept across the Muslim world. Danish products were boycotted and an explanation demanded from the country’s leaders.

After the Sweden Democrats had published one of the pictures on its website the party was “informed” by the Swedish Security Services and foreign ministry staff that the material could damage Swedish interests.

When it was later revealed that Freivalds had sanctioned communications with the company that closed the Sweden Democrats’ website the pressure became too much and she on March 21st last year.