The dropping of a hate speech case against students who staged a "slave auction" at Lund University clears the way for racists and contravenes Swedish human rights commitments, representatives from anti-racism groups argue.
Slavery was one of the largest and most horrible crimes ever committed against humanity.
In the course of 300 years, 30 million slaves were forcibly moved from Africa under terrible suffering, hunger and torture. Men, women and children were killed during the shipments. It is estimated that 20 million people died as a result of slavery.
Despite these facts, a group of students, at Hallands Nation, an association for students at Lund University, in 2011, organised a violation of a people based on them being black, their African origin and their historic link to slavery.
At a party planned by Hallands Nation, a number of students made themselves up to look like “negroes”, complete with wigs with afro hair.
Those pretending to be Africans were led in bound at the neck with a rope. They were led by another student posing as a slave trader. He held a simulated auction with the “African slaves” in front of a hundred or so people who placed bids for “the slaves”. One spectator asked the actors what it is they do. The answer was “I am a nigger”.
For almost thirty years the statute book’s definition of hate speech has been regulated by government proposition 1986/87:151.
The key issue in deciding responsibility for hate speech is how to prevent an ethnic group being treated and regarded as of less value in relation to other groups without curtailing the broad scope which is required for an open debate.
It is also a question of retaining freedom of speech at the same time as protection against hate speech is maintained. It also states that the only views that should be criminalized are those which aim to belittle an ethnic group’s identity or to undermine equality based on race, colour or ethnic origin.
The proposition in question also removed the requirement that hate speech has to occur in a public place. It also mentions specifically that “the spread of racist and similar statements within an association” should also be subject to penalty.
Despite this, the district prosecutor Mattias Larsson in Malmö has decided to drop the case of hate speech against the students who dressed up as “negro slaves” and “slave traders”.
The prosecutor has described this incident as “a costume party” and thus did not deem the actions to be criminal.
A similarly enjoyable costume party could run like this: Let a number of students dress up as Jews who enter a gas chamber to be executed. In what way does the crime against humanity that is slavery differ from the crime of the Holocaust? Is one more fun than the other in the eyes of the prosecutor?
Or why not stage how people were killed by the atom bombs which fell on Japan? That is surely at least as fun as how millions of Africans died during slavery?
The issue is of course whether we should, silently and passively, accept and belittle the genocide and enslavement of tens of millions of black people in Africa? What type of people would this thus make us?
In international law, expressed by the European Convention on Fundamental Human Rights and interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights in cases such as Jersild v. Denmark (1994), Gündüz v. Turkey (2003), Erbakan v. Turkey (2006), shows that it is "of essential importance to combat racial discrimination in all its forms and expressions".
The court also establishes that "on principle it can be justified for some democratic states to punish and even prevent all forms of expression which spread, call, advocate or justify hatred based on intolerance."
This is also covered in the Council of Europe handbook covering so-called "hate-speech", which details the relation to freedom of expression and present a compilation of relevant judgments from the European Court of Human Rights.
The prosecutor Mattias Larsson should know that his legal interpretation is contrary to a reasoning put forward by our legislators in the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag.
Through his behavior, Mattias Larsson, has now paved the way for people in Sweden to systematically violate international law without reaction from the judiciary.
Prosecutor Mattias Larsson paves the way for people dressed up as SS guards to stage the gassing of Jews, just for fun.
If we, each and every one of us, are not protected by the judiciary, when tragedies in our individual or shared histories are used to humiliate us, then none of us are going to be protected from ridicule, contempt and finally hatred.
We have thus a horrible development in front of us. The decision by the prosecutor in Malmö allows for racists to neglect their responsibilities.
Jallow Momodou, Kitimbwa Sabuni (Afro-Swedish Association), Mariam Osman Sharify (Centre against racism), Thabo Muso, Barakat Ghebrhawariat.