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Swedish courts are about to get tougher on murder

Sweden will start locking more murderers up for life, in a new proposal set to go before parliament this year.

Swedish courts are about to get tougher on murder
Swedish courts will start handing out more life sentences for murder, according to a new proposal. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Sweden's centre-left government was on Wednesday set to give a new legislative proposal the go-ahead. It is expected to get parliament's backing and will then come into force on January 1st, 2020.

Today, 14 years' imprisonment is the standard penalty for murder in Sweden, in cases where there are no other factors to take into account. A life sentence is only handed out in exceptional cases, for example if the perpetrator killed more than one person or if aggravating circumstances apply.

The law change will mean that more external factors can be considered for a life sentence.

“It could be that the perpetrator caused the victim severe suffering, that the method was particularly reckless, that a person close to the perpetrator was the target, that it happened in the victim's home or in front of other people close to them, for example children,” explained Sweden's Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, adding that two thirds of female murder victims are killed by someone close to them.

A majority of convicted murderers will be sentenced to life in jail after the new law comes into effect, according to the minister, with the percentage of life sentences then set to increase from 30 to over 50.

“Murders that previously led to 15 to 18 years in jail will in the future instead give you life in jail.”

Critics of the law change have argued that tougher punishment does not necessarily lead to a decrease in crime. But the justice minister said incarceration was an important factor in and of itself.

“If you are sentenced to life in jail, you will stay there until you are no longer considered to be dangerous,” he said, adding that as long as the convicted murderers are locked up they can not fall back into crime.

A person who is serving life in jail can after a certain period of time apply to have their sentence converted to a time-limited sentence. In practice, a life sentence in Sweden averages around 16 years.

Swedish politicians have previously attempted to get tough on murder. But a separate law change pushed through in 2014 had little effect, which Sweden's Council on Legislation – a body that scrutinizes draft bills before the go before parliament – had warned of. The council had no objections to the new proposal.

Sweden sentenced a total of 128 people to jail for murder last year, 18 to psychiatric care and four to juvenile detention.

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CRIME

Swedish Green leader: ‘Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity’

The riots that rocked Swedish cities over the Easter holidays were nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, but instead come down to class, the joint leader of Sweden's Green Party has told The Local in an interview.

Swedish Green leader: 'Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity'

Ahead of a visit to the school in Rosengård that was damaged in the rioting, Märta Stenevi said that neither the Danish extremist Rasmus Paludan, who provoked the riots by burning copies of the Koran, nor those who rioted, injuring 104 policemen, were ultimately motivated by religion. 

“His demonstration had nothing to do with religion or with Islam. It has everything to do with being a right extremist and trying to to raise a lot of conflict between groups in Sweden,” she said of Paludan’s protests. 

“On the other side, the police have now stated that there were a lot of connections to organised crime and gangs, who see this as an opportunity to raise hell within their communities.”

Riots broke out in the Swedish cities of Malmö, Stockholm, Norrköping, Linköping and Landskrona over the Easter holidays as a result of Paludan’s tour of the cities, which saw him burn multiple copies of the Koran, the holy book of Islam. 

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More than 100 police officers were injured in the riots, sparking debates about hate-crime legislation and about law and order. 

According to Stenevi, the real cause of the disorder is the way inequality has increased in Sweden in recent decades. 

“If you have big chasms between the rich people and poor people in a country, you will also have a social upheaval and social disturbance. This is well-documented all across the world,” she says. 
 
“What we have done for the past three decades in Sweden is to create a wider and wider gap between those who have a lot and those who have nothing.” 

 
The worst way of reacting to the riots, she argues, is that of Sweden’s right-wing parties. 
 
“You cannot do it by punishment, by adding to the sense of outsider status, you have to start working on actually including people, and that happens through old-fashioned things such as education, and a proper minimum income, to lift people out of their poverty, not to keep them there.”

This, she says, is “ridiculous”, when the long-term solution lies in doing what Sweden did to end extreme inequality at the start of the 20th century, when it created the socialist folkhem, or “people’s home”. 

“It’s easy to forget that 100 to 150 years ago, Sweden was a developing country, with a huge class of poor people with no education whatsoever. And we did this huge lift of a whole nation. And we can do this again,” she says. “But it needs resources, it needs political will.” 
 
 
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