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Politician on trial for nude Muhammad poster

A Swedish politician facing charges for producing a poster depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad naked together with his nine-year-old wife was found not guilty by a jury in Malmö on Wednesday.

Politician on trial for nude Muhammad poster

Carl P Herslow, leader of the Skåne Party (Skånepartiet), a small right-wing populist regional party, is charged with agitation against an ethnic group (hets mot folkgrupp).

The poster included the text: ‘He is 53 and she is nine. Is this the kind of wedding we want to see in Skåne?’.

Herslow admits producing the poster but contested the charges. He said the aim of the poster was to stimulate a debate about Islam, which he argued was incompatible with democracy and equality.

“The intention was to provoke a strong reaction among both Muslims and non-Muslims,” he said.

Prosecutor Bo Birgerson, representing the Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern – JK) – the country’s top legal official, who is responsible for prosecution of cases involving freedom of speech – said that the distribution of the poster showed disrespect to Muslims.

Birgerson argued that previous cases in the Supreme Court showed that conviction for Herslow would not violate his right under Swedish law to freedom of speech.

“A conviction is important to show where the boundaries are for debate in an open and democratic society.”

The prosecution argued that Herslow should to be given a suspended prison sentence and for the posters to be confiscated.

But after deliberating less than an hour the jury, which are only used in Sweden in freedom of speech cases, told the court that Herslow was not guilty of agitation against an ethnic group.

As a result, the court cannot convict the politician when it delivers its formal verdict on March 16th.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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