COURT CASE FOR SWEDE EXERCISING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
The Swedish Migration Board is in court pursuing a claim against an employee charged with being a Conservative who also wrote favourable comments on his private website about the US and Israel as pillars of democracy. The Swedish Migration Board feels that Conservatives and people who express themselves favourably about these two countries are not fit to hold a unit management position.
Lennart Eriksson, 52, has worked at the Swedish Migration Board, Göteborg, Sweden in various capacities for more than 20 years. In October 2007 he was ousted from his job as unit manager. The reasons are twofold: because he ran a website on the Internet in which he gave his opinions on various issues, and because he is a Conservative in his personal political affiliations.
Political views dictated to employees
On his website, which his employers knew about for many years, Eriksson voiced appreciation of the US and Israel as examples of thriving democracies. He also praised US general George Patton as a hero of World War Two. Eriksson has never spent work-time on his website and he has never used his work computers for this purpose. Neither do his employers contend that he ever did so.
Lennart Eriksson sued the Swedish Migration Board in Mölndal county court, Göteborg. He maintains he has in effect been fired from his job as asylum assessment unit manager, camouflaged in the form of a demotion or transfer. Lennart Eriksson feels that whatever the terminology, there is no legal or justifiable cause for the move. The Migration Board confirms that Lennart Eriksson has been transferred as a result of the opinions he expressed on his private website.
Trial venue and dates
The main hearing will take place on Friday October 10 and Monday October 13, 2008, starting at 09:00 on both days. The court’s address is: Mölndals tingsrätt, Södra Vägen 25, Göteborg, Sweden.
The case is of fundamental importance in a country that is nominally a democracy. The right to freely express opinions on political, cultural and social issues without risk of reprisal is the very foundation of a democratic society. The opinions that Lennart Eriksson expresses are based on a strong democratic foundation whose cornerstone is the unassailable affirmation of every individual’s equal human value. In the political perspective, Lennart Eriksson’s opinions are traditionally Conservative.
Political persecution is unfamiliar in a country where generations of citizens have been told that this sort of thing cannot occur at home. The Swedish Migration Board fulfils a vital social function. Protecting human rights and offering asylum to victims of persecution are among the Board’s central roles. However, with the Swedish Migration Board revealing that it will not hesitate to victimise its own employees for political beliefs that are at odds with those of its managers, its credibility and the public’s confidence in its operations risk irreversible erosion.
On trial: freedom of expression in Sweden
This trial follows hard on the heels of another high-profile case in which a Swedish intern working at a Swedish embassy abroad was summarily fired and sent home when his political affiliations were discovered. That case was taken up by Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice who ordered the Foreign Ministry to pay the sacked intern compensation for wrongful dismissal. The verdict against the embassy was remarkable for its particularly brusque wording.
That case bore an uncanny resemblance to the situation in which Lennart Eriksson finds himself: the freedom to have political beliefs and to express them privately resulting in a state-run institution terminating an employee’s tenure.