Reporters Without Borders said Friday it is dismayed that a court in the southern city Malmö today convicted three journalists with the tabloid newspaper Expressen of violating firearms legislation because one of them bought a revolver in the city’s criminal underworld in order to show how easy it is to acquire a gun illegally in Sweden.
“It is shocking that journalists are treated like criminals because of a piece of investigative reporting,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Expressen’s research clearly involved a subject of public interest. The information obtained by the reporter was important to society as a whole.
“We hope that this conviction will be overturned on appeal and that all the charges against these journalists will be dismissed. The ability to do investigative journalism in Sweden is at stake. If reporters cannot investigate sensitive subjects, then investigative reporting does not exist.”
The activities of a serial killer in Malmö in October 2010 triggered a debate about the availability of firearms in Sweden, and so Expressen did an investigative report on the ease with which they can be obtained illegally. As part of the research, Expressen reporter Diamant Salihu set out to discover how quickly he could get a revolver and a cartridge clip. It took him just five hours, after which he immediately handed in the gun to the police.
The Malmö court sentenced Salihu to a fine of 14,400 kronor (1,600 euros) for breaking the firearms legislation, Expressen editor-in-chief Thomas Mattsson to a fine of 30,000 kronor (3,300 euros) for inciting Salihu to break the law, and former Expressen news editor Andreas Johansson to a fine of 13,500 kronor (1,500 euros) for complicity. The fines will be increased if they repeat the offences.
The court claimed that it took account of the right to information. It also said that the fact the revolver was handed to the police constituted a mitigating circumstance. The journalists said they would file an appeal, for which the deadline is 8 June. Mattsson’s lawyer, Ulf Isaksson, told Reporters Without Borders he was “disappointed” by the verdict as Mattsson had pleaded that “the actions in no way constituted a crime.”
This case could have an impact on Sweden’s position in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, in which it is currently ranked 12th out of 179 countries.