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AFGHANISTAN

Terror suspect Swedes still detained: Pakistan

Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Wednesday confirmed that four Swedish citizens are sitting in prison in the capital Islamabad, three weeks after their arrest in the north of the country.

Terror suspect Swedes still detained: Pakistan

The news reached Sweden’s foreign ministry via Sweden’s ambassador to Pakistan, Ulrika Sundberg, who visited the Pakistani ministry where she received a diplomatic note on the matter.

“In the note, the Pakistanis discuss who was arrested and they have also given a promise that the embassy will be allowed to visit them in the coming days according to normal consular procedures,” Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson Anders Jörle told the TT news agency.

The Swedes being held in Pakistan include Mehdi Ghezali, who spent two years in Guantánamo Bay following his 2001 arrest in Afghanistan, as well as 28-year-old Munir Awad and 19-year-old Safia Benaouda, and their two and a half-year-old boy.

Awad and Benaouda, who was pregnant at the time, were arrested in Kenya in 2007 after fleeing Somalia following the invasion of troops from Ethiopia.

They were held in an Ethiopian prison for three months on suspicions of being connected with Somali jihadists fighting against Ethiopia, but no formal charges were ever brought against them. Afterwards Benaouda claimed that investigators from the American FBI and CIA had been granted permission to question the prisoners.

They were eventually released following protests from the Swedish foreign ministry and the security service Säpo.

Until Wednesday, Pakistan has said that all of the people arrested on a bus on August 28th were terror suspects. Police say they got the impression that the group of foreigners, which included the Swedes, were in the company of a Pakistani man with military training who was suspected of involvement in terrorism.

His alleged mission was to take the foreigners from the city of Quetta to Miranshah, the main city in the lawless region of northern Waziristan, where they were to meet an alleged Taliban leader named Zahir Noor.

Northern Waziristan is part of a tribal area in northern Pakistan with a porous border to Afghanistan and which is considered a Taliban stronghold in Pakistan.

The central government in Pakistan has long struggled to gain control over the region, where the Pashtu culture has more in common with large parts of neighbouring Afghanistan.

The suspicions against Ghezali are said to be stronger than those against the other Swedes.

He is reported to have said that the group was on its way to Lahore to attend a harmless meeting with a Muslim revivalist movement, Tablighi Jamaat.

Jörle from the Swedish foreign ministry refused to comment on media reports that American and British intelligence agencies had been allowed to question the arrested Swedes.

On Tuesday, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt signaled the case was not a priority for the ministry.

“The four people will receive the consular assistance which everyone gets according to the law, regardless of what crimes they are suspected of. We’re not going to do any out of the ordinary prioritizing in this case,” said Jörle.

AFGHANISTAN

Swedish student to face trial after anti-deportation protest that stopped flight

The Swedish student who livestreamed her onboard protest against the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker will go on trial on Monday.

Swedish student to face trial after anti-deportation protest that stopped flight
Elin Ersson. File photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Elin Ersson will appear at Gothenburg District Court, charged with violating Sweden’s Aviation Act.

Ersson protested in July last year against the Swedish government's policy of deporting some rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan by boarding an Istanbul-bound flight that carried an Afghan man who was to be returned home after being denied asylum.

With a ticket for the flight that was purchased by the activist group 'Sittstrejken i Göteborg', the activist boarded the aircraft and then refused to sit down until the Afghan man was let off. Flights are not allowed to take off until all passengers are safely in their seats.

Ersson livestreamed her protest on Facebook, where it was viewed over five million times.

Eventually, Ersson was told that the man would be let off the plane and she was also removed by airport security.

According to the prosecutor in the trial, which will take place Monday, Ersson acknowledges her actions in the incident but said her objections were based on her morals and argues that she did not act illegally as the plane was not in the air at the time of her protest.

“I believe that she is guilty of a crime which I can prove and which she will not admit. The court will therefore determine this,” prosecutor James von Reis told TT when charges were brought against the student.

In an interview with the news agency in July last year, Ersson was asked how she sees the view that her actions can be considered criminal.

“The key issue for me is that the man who was to be deported is human and deserves to live. In Sweden we do not have the death penalty, but deportation to a country which is at war can mean death,” she said.

The trial is expected to be completed within one day and Ersson’s defence has sent supplementary evidence to the court.

That consists of a legal statement by Dennis Martinsson, a lawyer in criminal law at Stockholm University. In the 13-page statement, Martinsson argues that the Aviation Act is phrased in a way which makes it questionable whether it is applicable to what Ersson did.

According to the legal expert, the relevant paragraph only applies to requests made by the aircraft’s commanding officer. Investigation of the incident found that Ersson was instructed to take her seat by “cabin crew on board”.

Further, the law states that criminal liability applies to passengers who do not comply with instructions “during a flight”, a description which Martinsson argues cannot be applied to an aircraft on the ground waiting to depart.

There is no precedent in interpretation of the law, he also writes according to TT’s summary.

The extent to which those arguments will affect the outcome of Monday’s case remains to be seen.

The penalty for violation of the Aviation Act is a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of six months.

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