Child pornography

Manga case said to obscure real abuses

On Wednesday, the Swedish Supreme Court began hearing a case against a man who was fined for possession of manga-style cartoon images deemed to be child pornography. The controversial case has caused a debate about freedom of expression and the reach of Sweden's legislation against child pornography.

A book store in Stockholm's old town stocks around 30 shelfmeters of Manga cartoons, according to David Borgström, an employee and Manga specialist.

"Manga is very popular in Sweden today. We sell hundreds, if not thousands of titles every month," he says.

Most of the Manga titles in the book shop are directed towards teenage readers–and most of them had little in common with the manga images Sweden has been talking about.

On wednesday morning, the Supreme Court began hearing an appeal from a translator who was fined for posession of child pornographic material in 2010.

One of the Manga-style images his computer contained depicted two young girls performing an act with strong sexual connotations.

The case has been criticized for shifting attention away from the sexual abuse of children.

On Tuesday, Björn Sellström at the unit for child pornoraphy with the national criminal police said the current legislation on child pornography, which exempts such material from constitutional protection, leads to the police spending their time fighting depictions rather than actions.

Writing in the debate pages of Svenska Dagbladet, a daily newspaper, Sellström said that the case against the translator shifts attention away from real abuses.

Bror Hellman, who represents the Campaign Against Censorship in Sweden, was present outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

His organisation wants to change Sweden's legislation on child pornography, which exempts child pornographic material from constitutional protection.

"As it is now, any painting, any photo – even if it's your kids bathing – could be considered a felony. This is absurd. We want the law to be clear, and we want the law to actually help in the fight against child pornography," Bror Hellman.

"These are cartoons depicting antropomorphic humans with rabbit ears and tails. The expert says Donald Duck and The Simpsons cannot be child pornography, but these Japanese paintings are child pornography. That's not a judgement the courts should be making," Bror Hellman continues.

At the book shop in central Stockholm, David Borgström points out that many titles are intended for more mature readers. He says that Manga cartoons often contain controversial or even illegal depictions. But he is still against censorship.

"In Manga in particular, they are very fond of big eyes, small mouths, big heads and so on. That makes the charaacters look very young, even though they are, on paper, 17. They could easily go for 12 to 14 years of age."

Do you think Manga should be more subject to censorship than other cartoons?

"No, I do not think that. There are a lot of Western comics that are explicit. We talk about heavy metal titles, usually from France and Italy, with a lot of sex and violence in combination. Except the females are usually – I'm not saying always – but they're usually drawn as women and not young teenagers," says David Borgström.

Sven Hultberg Carlsson

Radio Sweden