Eritrean torture blackmail trial opens in Stockholm

Eritrean torture blackmail trial opens in Stockholm
Two men charged with blackmailing an Eritrean woman in Sweden faced a Stockholm courtroom on Wednesday, accused of demanding money from the woman to prevent the torture and eventual murder of a man in Egypt.

The two men, 21 and 18, are Swedish nationals of Middle Eastern descent, the TT news agency reported.

Both denied the crimes, however the prosecutor at the Solna District Court pointed to mobile phone text messages and telephone calls that could incriminate them. The pair are facing charges of aggravated attempted extortion for their role in a scheme that affects thousands of members of the Eritrean diaspora around the world, including Sweden.

While Eritreans in Sweden are often targeted by kidnappers, what was unusual about this case was that the accomplices of the kidnappers were in Sweden, according to the indictment.

The trial is thought to be the first time anyone involved with such torture-blackmail plots has been put on trial in the western world.

The kidnappers demanded that a Swedish-Eritrean woman pay them $33,000. If she failed to come up with the money, they threatened to kill a man who was a relative of the woman who lived in Egypt and “remove his organs from his body”. The man later died following the torture.

The lawyer of the younger of the two suspects stated that his client “denies the offense, but that he tried to persuade the plaintiff to pay the money, but not in the form of coercion.”

Chief prosecutor Krister Peterson showed the court telephone conversations between the two men and the woman who was being blackmailed. Among the exchanges, the 21-year-old man warned the woman to “forget the whole thing” and to instead “use the money for the funeral”.

When the woman asked to see a picture of the kidnapped man, the 18-year-old told his accomplice to: “Send a picture of him with a beaten face (…) otherwise she won’t send the money.”

At another moment when the the woman appeared to be threatened, the 21-year-old said “Quiet! Don’t speak on the telephone!”

The interpretation of the conversation is critical to the case, with the lawyer of the 21-year-old stating that his client knew nothing of the kidnapping, but instead believed that the situation to be about a “harmless payment”.

Eritreans living in Sweden are routinely targeted by kidnappers who blackmail them into paying for the freedom of relatives and fellow nationals.

Pressure is mounting on the Swedish government to act to intervene in the situation which is proving to be a very lucrative trade in human beings in the region.

Thousands of Eritreans are thought to have been tortured and killed in Bedouin camps in the Sinai peninsula and several Swedish-Eritreans have been blackmailed for ransoms running into thousands of dollars.

TT/The Local/og

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