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AFGHANISTAN

Afghan war disinterest benefits military: expert

The Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten) benefit from the relatively low political interest in the war in Afghanistan.

Afghan war disinterest benefits military: expert

With their information campaigns, the Armed Forces aims to keep interest down, claims Wilhelm Agrell, Intelligence Analysis Professor at Lund University.

The war in Afghanistan has made the Swedish forces more similar to those of other countries at war, as major investments are made to control the media’s reports. If interest in the war had been greater, this control would have been lost, according to Agrell.

Just like the military in other warring countries, the Swedish Armed Forces have grown concerned with how the Afghanistan operation is described, anxious to see the media label it successful.

“It’s becoming more and more important to create a positive image of the operation, and the results that are achieved, because such an image affects the support from the general public, and if that support is lost, the political support for the operation will quickly disappear too,” he said to news agency TT.

“This image is fragile, and can crack quickly, and when it does, other media forces take over. And these are stronger than all authorities, including the Armed Forces,” said Agrell.

He is surprised that the Armed Forces have been so successful in controlling the media image, and believes that there has been little political criticism of the war.

“The main contributing factor is that this war is very far away. The image of the war is strongly controlled and very selective. Behind this there’s a large disinterest. The Afghanistan issue isn’t very big in Sweden, but has potential to grow if for instance very negative conditions about the operation are reported.”

Erik Lagersten, the Swedish Armed Forces’ information officer, disagrees with Wilhelm Agrell’s view that the Forces are attempting to give a positive image of the operation.

“We show both unflattering and successful factors in Afghanistan. There’s no goal from our side to describe the operation one way or another,” he explained.

“Our goal is to be pro-active, to always try to be the first to report what has happened.”

Being quick is one alternative explanation for why the Armed Forces’ image of the war is dominant.

“This reduces alternative interpretations of events. We show facts, and hope that others will respond to them.”

Lagersten rejects Agrell’s claims that a low interest in Afghanistan is beneficial for the Armed Forces, instead calling for more media attention.

Playing the role of sole reporter leaves the forces vulnerable to criticism, according to him.

“Far too much reporting is left for the Swedish Armed Forces to do. This leads to us occasionally being criticised for inaccurate information,” said Lagersten.

According to him, the forces don’t try to sway public opinion to affect politicians in their decision-making, but that once a decision has already been made, raising awareness may become necessary.

“I wouldn’t call it swaying opinion, but simply giving as much information as possible with the goal of supporting the politicians’ decision.”

Allan Widman, the Liberal Party’s (Folkpartiet) defense policy spokesman, is happy with the information coming from the Swedish Armed Forces, but also understands Agrell’s point.

“There’s always a tendency to try to describe things as hopeful. I don’t think our authorities are the only ones affected by this tendency. Politicians probably do it too, I’m afraid,” he said.

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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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