Mattias Karlsson, who is the group leader of the Sweden Democrats in parliament and one of the anti-immigration party's most senior figures, hit out at a picture of two Afghan teenage activists taking a selfie together with a Swedish police officer who was monitoring a neo-Nazi march in Gothenburg on Saturday.
"Half a year after an illegal immigrant, who ought to have been deported, killed and injured 19 Swedes in a terror attack, the police are taking selfies with immigrants staying here illegally and who ought to be deported…" wrote Karlsson in a Facebook post, published on Tuesday and deleted on Wednesday.
He was referring to the terror attack on Drottninggatan in Stockholm on April 7th, in which Uzbek national Rakhmat Akilov drove a truck into pedestrians. Around 15 people were injured and five killed in the attack, including one British and one Belgian national. Akilov had gone underground after receiving a deportation order.
Neither teenager in the picture is in Sweden illegally, contrary to Karlsson's claims. Fatemeh Khavari, 17, and Amir Nabizadeh, 18, both have residence permits issued by the Swedish migration authorities.
Khavari has become a high-profile figure in recent months as the spokesperson of 'Ung i Sverige' ('young in Sweden'), a campaign against deportations of young refugees to Afghanistan. The group has staged a 55-day sit-down protest in Stockholm, which The Local visited last month to learn more about their goals.
The picture was taken by Nabizadeh at the police officer's initiative during a quiet moment in Gothenburg on Saturday, where he and Khavari had travelled from Stockholm to join a protest against a neo-Nazi march through the city, led by the militant Nordic Resistance Movement (Nordiska motståndsrörelsen, NMR).
Describing the day in Gothenburg, where neo-Nazis clashed with police and counter-protesters, Khavari told The Local: "It was chaos. There were two sides: one that stood for hate, and one that was against it. There was a big difference between those two groups. But it was good that we were there and had our voices heard. It was there that the image Karlsson shared was taken, when we were standing and protesting against the NMR."
Nabizadeh on Wednesday reported Karlsson to the police for defamation, for falsely referring to him as an illegal immigrant, and copyright infringement for posting a picture taken by him without his permission.
"Mattias Karlsson is spreading pure lies about very young people who are in very vulnerable situations. He knows what this kind of thing triggers. There is a great risk of both of them being exposed to hate and threats," Nabizadeh's lawyer Emma Persson told the Aftonbladet tabloid on Wednesday.
Khavari told The Local on Wednesday that she was upset but had not filed any reports to the police, adding that she would like Karlsson, a member of parliament, to apologize for making the false claims.
"First of all it's not a good thing to call people illegal, because no human being is 'illegal'. It's also completely unacceptable that he would call us 'terrorists' when we haven't attacked anyone, rather it's the opposite: we've given people hope in their lives in recent months. I also believe it's not a good thing for a Swedish politician to say something like this about vulnerable people. I was very upset with it, of course," she said.
"He just needs to apologize to me and my friend. I've not reported it to the police."
Asked why, Khavari told The Local: "I've given him a chance to change. To decide never to call any human being 'illegal' again. I hope I can change his way of thinking and his perspective on people."
However, on Thursday she too filed a police report for defamation.
"I gave him the opportunity to apologize, but it only got worse," she told Aftonbladet, about a new Facebook post Karlsson wrote on Wednesday. "He has slandered the group I represent, it's not just about me and Amir."
She told the newspaper she would be happy to meet Karlsson to speak with him.
"I have learned from the Swedish humanitarian tradition what morality means. And I really want to teach him that, he who is a Swedish member of parliament. I suspect it is a great shame for him, who breaks the law and attacks people with his words, to call vulnerable groups in society terrorists," she said.
"I invite him to come and speak with me, and see if he dares to say the same things he writes on the internet."
Fatemeh Khavari at last month's sit-down protest in Stockholm. Photo: Lee Roden/The Local
Karlsson removed the controversial Facebook post on Wednesday. He declined to speak to media, but wrote a new post referring to the attention as a "Twitter storm, another media spectacle and another pseudo-debate about individual people in a photo". He also wrote: "if what I wrote in connection with the image has made anyone with a residence permit feel uncomfortable and singled out as an illegal immigrant, I regret this".
He wrote that his original post was in "frustration over the government's, the police's and other authorities' passivity when it comes to controlling, surveilling and deporting illegal immigrants" and added: "I hope that this has the positive effect that those of us who want to stimulate important debates about Sweden's future, safety and security for the country's citizens, make sure that we are even more thorough than we have been to make sure all our posts are double fact-checked and 100 percent accurate and verifiable in all respects."
Article by The Local's Emma Löfgren and Lee Roden.