Expressen’s editor Thomas Mattson was convicted of instigating a weapons crime, while former news editor Andreas Johansson was found guilty of being an accessory to a weapons crime.
Journalist Diamant Salihu, who actually purchased the gun, was convicted of a weapons crime.
All three were handed suspended sentences and fined by District Court in Malmö, which issued its ruling Friday morning.
The fines were 30,000 kronor ($4,200) for Mattsson; 13,500 kronor for Johansson and 14,400 kronor for Salihu.
The case stems from a 2010 story about illegal weapons purchases in Malmö.
As part of the report, Mattsson and Johansson gave Salihu permission to buy a weapon to show readers ease with which someone could obtain of illegal weapon in Malmö.
The purchase which took place on October 24th, 2010, was for a report commissioned as part of the newspaper’s ongoing coverage of the hunt for the serial shooter then on the loose in Sweden’s third largest city.
It took Expressen five hours to get hold of their weapon, a 7.65 millimetre Crvena Zastava semi-automatic pistol.
The firearm was turned into police immediately following the purchase, something which the court cited in its decision to hand the three journalists lighter sentences.
“Journalists examining the illegal weapons trade, and who turned a smuggled gun over to police, have been convicted by the Malmö District Court – at the same time there are eight unsolved killings in Malmö,” Mattsson told the TT news agency.
“There are likely more than just I who think this seems a bit strange.”
Mattsson added that he isn’t against employing similar methods at Expressen in the future.
“As editor-in-chief, one shouldn’t promise one thing or another ahead of future publication, but clearly Expressen will continue to use unconventional methods in order to examine criminality that police and prosecutors have failed to stop.”
Jonas Nordling, chair of the Swedish Journalists Union (Svenska Journalistförbundet), also criticized the ruling.
“This is an indictment which never should have been filed. It’s disappointing, to say the least,” he told TT, questioning the extent to which the court took into consideration that the purchase was made as part of a journalistic project.
According to the ruling, the court reasoned that possession of the weapon amount to taking a conscious risk with the aim of creating news.
But Nordling countered that committing a crime is justified in journalists’ efforts to draw attention to important issues.
He cautioned, however, that doesn’t mean journalists should be given special treatment when breaking the law.
“We can’t commit criminal acts as individuals, but if we want to show society’s shortcomings, which is a part of our journalistic mission, then we can. It’s not about a special treatment but taking our duty seriously,” he said.
In considering the case, the court weighed freedom of speech and expression against Sweden’s weapons laws in an attempt to determine if possessing an illegal weapon is justified in the course of writing a report for a newspaper.
As weapons crimes normally carry prison sentences, there was little room for such justification.
The fact that other journalists had handled weapons in other circumstances and avoided charges wasn’t reason enough for an acquittal, the court ruled.
Judge Eva Wendel Rosberg, who served as the lead judge in the case explained that the court tried to take a wide interpretation of free speech protections, which are guaranteed in the Swedish constitution and the European Convention for Human Rights.
“Even on this basis, journalists aren’t free to commit crimes for the aim of writing an article,” she said in a statement.
The gunman who sparked the Expressen probe was arrested in November 2010,
and his trial opened on Monday.
Peter Mangs, 40, is accused of three murders and 12 attempted murders motivated by racism. He has denied the charges.