Journalist avoids jail over human smuggling

Journalist avoids jail over human smuggling
Swedish journalist Fredrik Önnevall. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT
A journalist and his colleagues have avoided jail for helping a Syrian boy flee to Sweden.

Swedish journalist Fredrik Önnevall, his camera man and interpreter were handed suspended sentences with community service by Malmö District Court on Thursday.

The court found that the trio acted in a way that constituted human smuggling when they helped a 15-year-old Syrian refugee travel from Greece to Sweden, but denied the prosecutor's request for a jail sentence.

Önnevall and his colleagues met the boy in the spring of 2014 when they were making a documentary for Swedish public broadcaster SVT about the reaction of Europe's nationalist parties to the migrant influx.

Their legal team argued in court that they accepted no money from the boy and had served only as his travel companions.

“According to the district court it is obvious that the SVT team offered the help purely for humanitarian reasons,” the court agreed in a statement.  

“Two things have been obvious to the district court – that the TV team helped the boy to get through Europe and into Sweden, and that the reason they helped him was strong compassion for the boy.”

However, it added that because they had travelled from one member state of the passport-free Schengen area to another, it was not possible to acquit the journalists on the basis of a humanitarian exemption.

“One reason is that when you travel through Europe and through the Schengen countries there are several places along the way where you can get exactly the same protection as in Sweden,” judge Kristina Andersson told SVT after announcing the sentence.

The court also noted that the boy, who has since been granted permanent residency status in Sweden, did not apply for asylum immediately upon his arrival in Sweden.

Önnevall said that he would appeal the verdict.

“It is perhaps not so much the sentence, but it is the signal (it sends) and mainly that I think it is a legal misinterpretation,” he told the TT newswire.