Fredrik Önnevall.
Fredrik Önnevall. Credit: Emil Langvad/TT

SVT journalist found guilty of people smuggling but avoids imprisonment

Judge: It is obvious that they have done this for humanitarian reasons
2:39 min

SVT journalist Fredrik Önnevall and two colleagues who helped a young Syrian refugee flee to Sweden during the migrant crisis was convicted of  people smuggling by a court in Malmö, Thursday.

On Thursday the court handed two month suspended sentences and seventy-five hours of community service to all three.

The prosecutor had wanted a three month prison sentence.

Fredrik Önnevall told Swedish Radio that he will appeal his conviction, along with his two colleagues. 

"I have mentally prepared that it could end up like this. But it is not the end, it is the beginning of a journey, we will appeal the ruling."

Judge Kristin Andersson said that the humanitarian argument DID play a role in the ruling.

"It is quite clear that they have done this for humanitarian reasons, and we can as fellow human beings understand what has happened, but you cannot unpunished bring a person into a country just for humanitarian reasons," she tells Swedish Radio.

The court noted that according to European law, the boy should have the same protection in all EU countries, and that his need of protection was not acute when he got to Sweden.

Judge Andersson tells Swedish Radio that it was quite clear that the team brought the boy into Sweden, through several European countries, and that they were aware that he did not carry valid travel documents.

"They have helped him to plan this trip, they have made sure he changed his looks so that he would blend in more, with new clothes and a new haircut, and they clearly said in the documentary that it is better to drive than to fly as there are fewer checks that way," she says.

It was in Greece in 2014 while filming a documentary about the refugee crisis for SVT that Fredrik Önnevall and his cameraman and interpreter came across the 15-year-old Syrian boy. The youngster asked them to help him avoid a perilous journey across Europe by taking him with them to Sweden, where he has a relative.

The 43-year-old journalist said that he examined his conscience and decided that he could not leave the boy behind. They documented his trip by car, ferry and train.

In court, Önnevall admitted paying for a car rental and knowing the boy had false papers.

When the episode for the series Fosterland was first broadcast in 2015, a complaint to the police led to the eventual prosecution for people smuggling.

The case has caused widespread debate on whether it is a crime to help a human being in distress.

Prosecutor Kristina Amilon said in court that it was not a case of morals, but Swedish law. She pressed for a prison sentence.

The Syrian boy is now settled in Sweden with his family.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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