Journalist convicted for human trafficking after bringing Syrian boy to Sweden

Swedish Television reporter Fredrik Onnevall sits in the dock in the District Court during the first day of his trial in Malmo. Source: AP

A Swedish court on Thursday found a TV journalist guilty of human trafficking for helping a Syrian boy migrate to the country and gave him a suspended sentence.

In the spring of 2014, Fredrik Onnevall was filming a documentary about the response of European nationalist parties to the migration crisis when he met the 15-year-old boy in Greece. 

Along with two colleagues, Onnevall helped "Abed", which is not his real name, travel to Sweden.  

Scrawny and exhausted, the teenager was travelling alone and asked Onnevall to help him get to Sweden to join his cousin.

"It took 10 to 15 minutes maybe for me to get that question into my head, and to understand what he was asking me and to make up my mind," the 43-year-old journalist told AFP in an interview last month in the southern Swedish town of Malmo just prior to the start of his trial.

"Everything became more clear when it came down to that very question: 'What decision will I be able to live with in the future for myself?'," he said. 

Onnevall's lawyers had called for an acquittal on the grounds that he acted out of compassion and concern for the boy's fate.  

But the Malmo district court found him guilty of human trafficking and gave him a suspended sentence and ordered him to complete 75 hours of community service. 

While the court noted the SVT team had acted for purely humanitarian reasons, it said "jurisprudence leaves little scope to acquit someone for that reason." 

The journalist said he would appeal the ruling. 

"This is no surprise because I was prepared for all scenarios," he told AFP. 

"The district court is only the first legal step and I hope the appeals court will come to a different conclusion," he added. 

His two colleagues, a cameraman and an interpreter, received the same sentence. 

Since 2015 -- when the number of asylum applications in Sweden soared (from 80,000 in 2014 to 160,000 in 2015), requiring the country to halt its generous refugee policy -- the number of cases of people helping illegal immigrants come to Sweden has skyrocketed.

A total of 116 people were charged with human trafficking in 2016, twice as many as the previous year and almost eight times more than in 2014. Those convicted risk up to two years in prison.

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