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'I made a deal with my conscience': journalist on trial for helping refugee boy

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'I made a deal with my conscience': journalist on trial for helping refugee boy
Journalist Fredrik Önnevall, centre, arrives at Malmö District Court. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT
12:30 CET+01:00
The trial of a Swedish journalist and his two colleagues, who are accused of smuggling a Syrian refugee boy from Greece to Sweden, got under way on Thursday.

Fredrik Önnevall, his cameraman and interpreter met 15-year-old Abed in Greece when they were filming a documentary about European nationalist parties' response to the migration crisis in the spring of 2014.

The boy pleaded with the journalist to help him, and after his colleagues agreed, Önnevall rented a van and the group travelled together to Sweden. Their story was told in a documentary airing in January 2015, which led to a police complaint being filed against him, marking the start of his legal troubles.

According to the prosecutor, the trio are guilty of people smuggling for helping the boy get to Sweden.

The defence argued as the trial got under way in Malmö District Court that they had acted only as the boy's travel companions.

"This is a question of a documentary depicting a person's journey from Greece to Sweden," said lawyer Björn Benschöld.

He went on to say that the boy had paid his own way and carried his own ID documents.

Parts of the documentary were played in the courtroom, showing a scene in which Önnevall says that Abed is going to use fake ID documents which the boy had acquired himself.

"We can only offer travel company," Önnevall tells the documentary.

Önnevall described in court how the boy had said he was planning to jump onto a moving truck to make his way through Europe.

"I thought to myself, how is a boy, a child, going to manage that?" he said. "I made a deal with my conscience. Did I have the conscience to say no to a boy who wanted to come? No, I did not."

The boy, who now lives in Sweden, was heard as the trial continued in the afternoon.

"It was an act of humanity, they wanted to help me," he said. "My alternative was to make my way across the sea and maybe drown on the way."

The prosecutor argued ahead of the trial that the case is about the law, not morals.

"Legally, once they helped him to come, it's a case of human trafficking," prosecutor Kristina Amilon told the AFP news agency. "If they had been paid, the crime would have been aggravated."

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