Police violence in Sweden: RSF asks the authorities to live up to their international responsibility for press freedom
Four journalists have recently been arrested and prevented from working. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is stunned by the lack of the Swedish police’s knowledge about legal protection of press freedom.
On 22 August the police in Stockholm arrested a journalist, Markus Jordö, while he was working on a documentary for Swedish public service television, SVT. He is the fourth journalist in as many months to have been forcefully prevented from working by the police in Stockholm.
“I am stunned by the simple fact that the police so bluntly interfered with a journalist’s work, refused his identification, arrested him and confiscated his equipment. Judging by two other similar incidents in the past few months, the police lack knowledge about the rights of journalists and the protection of their sources”, said President of RSF Sweden Erik Halkjaer.
"Arbitrary arrests of reporters are not worthy of a country ranked in the long term on the highest spots of RSF's World Press Freedom Index," said Head of the EU/Balkans Desk at RSF, Pavol Szalai. "We call on the authorities to live up to Sweden's international commitments and responsibility. Sweden must lead by example all the more that next January it takes over the six-month rotating EU Presidency."
Markus Jordö was filming a climate protest blocking a highway south of Stockholm, when he was arrested together with some of the activists. The police neither explained to him the reasons for the arrest, nor gave him a chance to explain his presence. He never got a chance to identify himself as a journalist. However, the police confiscated his camera, telephone and memory cards which is a clear breach of the Swedish constitution that protects journalist sources.
After nine hours in cell Markus Jordö was released and got his camera back, but the police withheld the memory card for more than 24 hours. He was accused of sabotage, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing later that week.
Journalists mistreated like climate activists
On 3 June in Stockholm, a similar incident took place and is now subject to a criminal investigation by the Swedish Chancellor of Justice. Jonas Gratzer working for Getty Images, and Noa Söderberg, reporter of the newspaper Flamman and board member of the Swedish Journalists Union, were forcefully asked to stop their coverage of the protest on the occasion of the climate conference Stockholm +50 and then driven away by the police far outside of the city. They were again treated as the climate activists whose actions they were reporting on. The police also confiscated their equipment and phones, keeping them out of the journalists’ sight until releasing them.
When Jonas Gratzer and Noa Söderberg were asked to identify themselves, the police refused to use any other means than press cards which, however, neither of them were carrying at the moment and which are not a condition for journalists to be allowed to work in Sweden. Jonas Gratzer called his editor at Getty Images, but the police refused to speak to her.
Several other journalists were present, but left alone by the police.
Police’s version contested
At a meeting after the incident with Erik Halkjaer and the president of the Swedish Journalist Union (SJF) Ulrika Hyllert, the media director of the Swedish police Varg Gyllander expressed his regrets. While failing to promise that journalists would not be treated in a similar way again, he assured RSF and SJF that the police were aware of the laws concerning protection of journalistic sources and press freedom laws. However, the police spokespersons insisted that while it is very difficult to identify journalists at such events, it gave journalists during both incidents a chance to identify themselves. A version contested by the three arrested journalists. The police failed to comment on the confiscation of the journalist’s equipment, phones and memory cards.
RSF and SJF filed a complaint to the Swedish chancellor of Justices who agrees with the two organizations that the police might have breached the constitutional right to protect journalistic sources and might have mistreated the journalists. The incident is now being investigated by the prosecutor’s office.
Reporter dragged away
These two serious breaches by the Swedish police followed another event on 14 of April when seven police officers forced a journalist working for SVT to stop filming in a suburb of Stockholm. Although he identified himself with his press card, the officers confiscated his camera and forced him to show them the footage he had taken. They also held on to his arms and dragged him away accusing him of a crime.
The police accused the journalist of committing a crime consisting of filming close to the police building. A police building is considered an object of national security and must not be filmed, but according to a verdict by the Swedish Supreme Court from 2015 it is legal for a journalist working for a news media to film objects of national security as long as it is for informative purposes and publication in the media.
Following the complaint by RSF and SJF in the other incident, SVT filed in July a complaint against the police to the Parliamentary Ombudsman for censorship and prevention of collection of journalistic material during the April incident. The police have until 31 October to explain the police officers’ actions. In parallel, the prosecutor’s office launched an investigation against seven police officers.
Sweden is ranked 3rd of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index.