Prosecutor Gisela Sjövall announced last week that she would not prosecute a 23-year-old man who had posted the black ISIS flag on his Facebook page in June.
Police in Laholm, a town on Sweden’s west coast, had launched a criminal investigation into the man, who comes originally from Syria, on suspicion of committing “hate speech”.
“Put simply, one can say that he is expressing contempt for “all others”, and not against a specific ethnic group,” Sjövall told Sweden’s SVT broadcaster.
She said that while the swastika had now come to symbolise a hatred for Jews, the same could not yet be said of the IS flag.
“Up until now, we haven’t come to that point,” she told the local Hallandsposten newspaper. “That could change in ten years.”
According to Sweden’s hate speech laws, for an image or statement to represent “incitement to hatred”, it needs to threaten or disparage a group of persons in connection to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religious belief or sexual orientation.
“If there had been anything in the text [posted alongside the flag] with more specific formulations about certain groups, for example homosexuals, the ruling could have been different,” Sjövall continued. “For me, there are no doubts about the decision not to prosecute.”
When the man was questioned in June, he told police he did not in fact support Islamic State.
“He claims that this is not an IS flag, but instead a symbol which is used within Islam, and which had been used for many hundreds of years before it was misappropriated by IS,” his lawyer Björn Nilsson told the local Hallandsposten newspaper.
The black “Banner of the Eagle” is one of the flags flown by the prophet Mohammad in Islamic tradition.
It was banned from a public demonstration in the Netherlands in August 2014, and forbidden in Germany (for non-educational purposes) from September 2014.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron suggested in August 2014 that anybody displaying the Islamic State flag should be arrested, but it has not formally been made illegal.
Britain’s foreign minister Boris Johnson said when he was Mayor of London that he didn’t think the ISIS flag should be banned.
“I don’t like people carrying the Isis flag … I think a balance has got to be struck,” he said.
“We live in a free country and I think you’d have to have primary legislation to designate certain bits of iconography as being illegal. It would be quite difficult.”