GÖREL Granström & Karin Åström’s Lifecycle of a Hate Crime – Country Report for Sweden (2017) is an eye opener. Granström is associate professor at the Department of Law, Umeå University, Sweden while Åström, who was a senior lecturer in 2017, is also associate professor at the same university.
According to the authors, measures against hate crimes, which are crimes motivated by bias, have been defined as a priority in Sweden since the mid-1990s. The Swedish government has stated that these crimes are a violation of human rights.
Since 2016, the Swedish government has implemented a national plan against racism, similar forms of hostility, and hate crime. The national plan states as follow:
“Effective measures against racism and hate crime contribute towards the objective of ensuring full respect for Sweden’s international human rights obligations. Combating racism and similar forms of hostility prevents the risk of individual’s rights being infringed.” (See Government Offices of Sweden, “A comprehensive approach to combat racism and hate crime. National plan to combat racism, similar forms of hostility and hate crime”, 2017, p. 17)
Despite a significant majority of state prosecutors interviewed for the report being of the opinion that hate crimes “are an increasing feature of Swedish society and that the legal system has become better at identifying these crimes” there were still very few cases that led to prosecution and conviction.
Take the example of insult, a common hate crime. A prosecutor explained that while “insult is something that is often reported, it is possible to say that many of those reports do not lead to prosecution just because of the way the law is designed, where only in exceptional cases are they designated a public prosecution offence.”
The legislation dealing with agitation against a national or ethnic group and the law criminalising unlawful discrimination – again, hate crimes – are rarely used. According to Granström and Åström, those interviewed for the report – judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers – stated that they almost never handled cases regarding unlawful discrimination, and that cases of agitation against a national or ethnic group were rarely brought to court.
One of the prosecutors explained why prosecutors were reluctant to prosecute actions in accordance with the legislation on agitation against a national or ethnic group as follows:
“I make the assessment that when it concerns agitation against a national or ethnic group, I usually prosecute, … but there is quite a lot of caution, too much caution in using this legislation due to the relation to freedom of speech and freedom of opinion.
“And of course that is important, absolutely basic rights one should not tamper with, but at the same time there are regulations that some opinions are not allowed to be expressed.”
The above is somewhat in line with what a minority of the judges referred to as one of the judges interviewed explained: “This is a damn hassle…. (What) I think is the dilemma … is the balance between freedom of expression and the right of vulnerable groups to be protected, not to be exposed. (T)hat is difficult.”
The few cases that proceeded to prosecution perhaps explain why all the judges that were interviewed said that they had very little experience of dealing with hate crimes, and could only remember a handful when asked about them.
The prosecutors (and some of the defence lawyers) too said that judges were not always very good at handling hate crimes.
In the report, the authors wrote: “A significant majority of the legal actors were of the opinion that the legislation regarding hate crimes is sufficient and that problems in Sweden have more to do with implementation, that is, how the legislation is used or rather not used.
“There is also the matter of the legislation on unlawful discrimination and agitation against a national or ethnic group, two provisions that are almost never used. Hardly any of the prosecutors interviewed mentioned prosecuting cases of unlawful discrimination, and when they talked about the crime of agitation, almost all of them stated that the statute was difficult to use.”
Accordingly, the authors recommended that the legislation on unlawful discrimination and agitation against a national or ethnic group should be critically evaluated focusing on investigating why it is so seldom used, and in what way it could be amended to allow more effective application.
Sweden has to do more to combat hate crime, such as by evaluating why its legislation to bring the perpetrators to justice is so seldom used. – January 25, 2023.
* Hafiz Hassan reads The Malaysian Insight.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.