How Swedish PM's public event became a breeding ground for disinformation

AFP/The Local
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How Swedish PM's public event became a breeding ground for disinformation
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, leader of the conservative Moderate Party. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

Sweden's government described video clips purporting to show Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson saying Israel has a right to genocide as 'inaccurate' and part of a 'disinformation campaign'. And a student was falsely identified as a gang leader at the same event.


The video clips in question originate from a question and answer session Kristersson held in Gothenburg on Tuesday when he begins to talk about the Israel Hamas conflict and appears to misspeak.

"Right now, there are circulating clips with inaccurate translations and distortion of what the Swedish Prime Minister said during an open meeting in Gothenburg," Carl-Oskar Bohlin, Civil Defence Minister, said in a post to X, formerly Twitter.

"The purpose is obvious: To damage Sweden's image abroad and contribute to further polarisation and division," Bohlin added.

At one point during the talk, Kristersson begins to talk about the Israel-Hamas conflict, but misspeaks as he attempts to say that Sweden and the EU are "united on that Israel has a right to defence, within the framework of international law".

However, instead of the word for "defence" (försvar in Swedish), he first says "folk" before correcting himself.

Some in the crowd take this to mean that Kristersson was about to say folkmord, or genocide, which also is similar to the word for international law – folkrätt.

"Does Israel have a right to genocide?" and "we heard it" members of the crowd can be heard shouting.


The whole session has been described as rowdy, with protesters and members of the crowd shouting and interrupting Kristersson during the talk.

Kristersson wrote in a post later on Facebook that the talk had been interrupted by "political saboteurs", seemingly there only to vent "their anger at the political position of Sweden and the EU on the conflict in the Middle East".

Sweden's foreign minister Tobias Billström said in another post to X, that the country saw "hostile actors trying to falsely distort the words of our PM."

"Do not contribute to this. What he said is that Sweden and the EU stand firmly behind Israel's right to defend itself," Billström said.

Bohlin said the narrative was being reinforced by "actors involved in the disinformation campaign related to social services in Sweden".

In 2022, the country was targeted in a vast disinformation campaign claiming its social services were "kidnapping Muslim children" and placing them in Christian homes, leading Swedish authorities to publicly deny the allegations.


Also after the event in Gothenburg on Tuesday, Moderate politician Hanif Bali took to X, wrongly identifying one of the Palestine activists present as a known gang leader.

The false information was shared by many right-wing pundits on social media, and was printed in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper in an editorial by Swedish journalist Peter Wennblad. 

The activist was later correctly identified as Bachar Garar, a peace and conflict student at the Linné University without a criminal record or any known links to gang crime. Garar works in elderly care and at a hamburger restaurant, and has previously been on the front page of the Swedish Armed Forces' magazine Försvarets forum, after doing his military service with the Swedish Life Guards regiment in Kungsängen.

"It's frustrating that a known politician shares propaganda without double checking his source. At university we have learned to be careful about what information we share," Garar told the left-wing newspaper Proletären, which was the first newspaper to interview him.

"What he wrote about me harmed my family and myself, people think I'm a gang leader. I am scared that I may be attacked because people think I'm a gang criminal. It damages my reputation at university. I only want justice for my people, like so many others," he said.

Svenska Dagbladet later issued a correction and an apology to Garar. Bali removed his comments on X, writing that the gang leader did not take part in the meeting and that "being wrongly labelled a Palestine activist is serious. The statement is thus false and deleted". He didn't mention Garar.


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