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Swedish tabloid reported for racial agitation

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11:28 CEST+02:00
Swedish tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet has been reported to the Chancellor of Justice (JK) after publishing an article forwarding claims about the alleged organ harvesting of dead Palestinians by Israeli defence forces.

"Is that true? I am perplexed," Åsa Linderborg, Aftonbladet's culture editor, said after being informed by the The Local of the report on Tuesday.

"I think it is a shame that whenever solidarity is shown for the Palestinians and criticism is directed again Israel, someone cries anti-Semitism."

"One has to have the right to ask questions," Linderborg replied when asked if she or the newspaper regretted publishing the article.

Nils Funcke, one of Sweden's leading experts on legislation pertaining to freedom of speech, said he expected the Chancellor of Justice to reject the case.

"The article can hardly be construed as racial agitation. There is no ethnic group targeted; the article focuses on the Israeli army, and Israel is not made up solely of Jews," Funcke told The Local.

Even had the article concentrated on a single ethnic group, Funcke did not believe it would be considered "agitation" under the law.

"It was more a description of events and certainly did not agitate against a particular group."

Funcke added that charges set forth by Israeli politicians to the effect that Aftonbladet's article followed in a long tradition of "blood libels" against Jews would not hold up under legal scrutiny.

The Chancellor of Justice is a government official charged with representing the Swedish government in various legal matters as the government's ombudsman.

The Chancellor, currently Göran Lambertz, is appointed by the government and is the only prosecutor with the power to take legal action in cases concerning freedom of speech and the press.

The charge of racial agitation (hets mot folkgrupp) is defined in Swedish law as a crime involving the public dissemination of statements which threaten or express contempt for one or more identified ethnic groups.

In a written request submitted on August 23rd, the Chancellor is asked to consider whether the Aftonbladet article, which puts forward claims accusing the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) of involvement in the illegal human organ trade, constitutes racial agitation.

"We will examine the case. We are able to reject fairly quickly most reports we get concerning newspaper articles. I don't really know how it's going to go in this case but it will be looked into. Whether it will be sent out for consultation or decided on immediately I don't know as I am on holiday right now," Lambertz told news agency TT.

The article, penned by Swedish photographer Donald Boström, has sparked outrage in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and scores of ministers and commentators calling it a "blood libel" smacking of anti-Semitic accusations against Jews.

The article is in three parts and Boström links previous allegations of organ harvesting made by individual Palestinians to a New York-based crime suspect, Rabbi Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, recently accused of attempting to facilitate the sale of a kidney from a donor in Israel.

In a further twist to the saga, the Palestinian families on which Boström based his claims appeared to distance themselves from the allegations in an article in the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

The newspaper cites Ibrahim Ghanem, a relative of Bilal Ahmed Ghanem, the young Palestinian at the centre of the Aftonbladet story, who says that the family never told Boström that Israel had stolen his organs.

"Maybe the journalist reached that conclusion on the basis of the stitches he saw on the body," Ghanem told the newspaper.

"But as far as the family is concerned, we don't know if organs were removed from the body because we never performed our own autopsy. All we know is that Bilal's teeth were missing."

Åsa Linderborg told The Local on Tuesday that Donald Boström is responsible for his own sources but added that staff from Aftonbladet had met the family concerned over the weekend and, she claims, had gained confirmation of the allegations.

In response to pressure from the Israeli government to condemn the newspaper Sweden's prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, and foreign minister Carl Bildt, have emphasized that it is not the government's role to comment on the content of newspapers.

Reinfeldt underlined in a statement on Monday that to act would be in contravention of the Swedish constitution.

He also rejected the suggestion that the row could undermine his country's work in the Middle East peace process as the current holders of the EU presidency.

"Political ambitions always risk being used as an excuse to break off contacts or efforts, but I have no reason to believe that (is what is happening) at this point in time and I hope it won't go down that route," he said.

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