Sweden was the first country in the world to present a freedom of press act 250 years ago, when freedom of media and publishing were often far from guaranteed. Today, the Scandinavian nation still regularly occupies the top spots in press freedom rankings.
So perhaps it's no surprise that Sinan Saadi Alsabaa, a 23-year-old Iraqi journalist, describes this country as a paradise.
Doing his job as a reporter led to him being attacked by security forces in his home country - something he can't even imagine happening in Sweden.
“In February 2015 I was covering a security conference with few colleagues in Baghdad. One of the crew leaked information about it. In a matter of minutes, security forces emerged out of nowhere and started hitting us.”
“I was severely hurt,” says Alsabaa. "And following this incident I was blacklisted too."
That was the moment that convinced Alsabaa to leave everything behind and head to northern Europe. When he arrived in September 2015, the young journalist was instantly struck by how Sweden went above and beyond in its humane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.
“Once I'd witnessed Sweden’s hospitality, I quickly contacted Iraqi media and told them I wanted to report on this country’s exceptional handling of the migration crisis, and how refugees were being treated with the utmost care - in an almost maternal way.”
“This helped me keep writing, and to keep feeling like a journalist. It also helped me to fill my time because as an asylum seeker, I had almost nothing to do when I first moved here.”
“I wrote for different Arabic newspapers on a weekly basis,” Alsabaa explains happily.
In Iraq, he had worked at a local TV channel while studying journalism at Baghdad’s Dijlah university. He was due to get his bachelor’s degree within a year, but unfortunately had to flee before completing his studies.
Now Alsabaa hopes to make up for this academic loss in Sweden.
“The Fojo media institute and the migration agency organized a five-day journalism course in Kalmar in December, to give refugee journalists an insight into Sweden’s journalism.”
“I learnt a lot from this course. There was one thing I understood very clearly: In Sweden I’m unreservedly free to write and to express my views, and as a journalist I’m protected by the law.”
“In Iraq and in Sweden, journalism is journalism. But what differs is its application and the respect towards its cause, values and principles. Back in Iraq, I had no free access to information, and was not free to write and publish the way I wanted - or as needed,” explains Alsabaa.
In addition to theory, the course in Kalmar allowed Alsabaa to go over the basics of photography, analyzing, interviewing and other media techniques, and gave him the chance to interact with professional Swedes and use Swedish.
“Integration is communication. I think this course had great value in allowing us to exchange information and blend in with Swedes,” he adds.
Alsabaa is now hoping for a chance to pursue further education in Sweden, continue his studies and finally get a degree in journalism.
He says: “Not one single journalist is being imprisoned in Sweden for doing his job, or for expressing his views freely. It’s almost the opposite of Iraq."
“Sweden is a journalist’s heaven.”