A Swedish student who livestreamed her protest against the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker last year has been found guilty of violating Sweden’s aviation laws and fined £250.
Elin Ersson, 22, avoided a prison sentence at the Gothenburg district court, where she was sentenced to a fine of 3,000 Swedish krona.
Last July, she broadcast her attempt to prevent a Turkish Airlines flight from leaving Göteborg Landvetter airport on Facebook. A 50-year-old Afghan, asylum seeker and convicted criminal, who was being deported from the country, was onboard.
After Ersson refused to take her seat, several other passengers – including members of a football team – joined her protest and the asylum seeker was removed from the plane, to applause from passengers. The video went viral has been viewed millions of times around the world.
The protest has had a mixed reception in Sweden, where attitudes have hardened towards immigration. The government has sharply reduced the number of asylum seekers and brought the country’s asylum regime in line with the rest of the EU. Sweden took in 370,000 people in the five years to 2016, but received 21,500 asylum applications last year, down from a peak of 163,000 in 2015.
Tomas Fridh, Ersson’s lawyer, told the Guardian that he was disappointed by the court’s decision, and would appeal.
“Elin’s ambition was not to commit a crime or break the law – her protest might be seen to have an element of civil disobedience, but in this case what was right was also legal,” he said.
In the aftermath of the protest itself, Tobias Billström, a leading member of the centre-right Moderate party, led calls for harsher sentences against asylum rights activists. Meanwhile, liberal and leftwing politicians saw Ersson’s prosecution as evidence of an official clampdown on civil disobedience.
“Sweden has been going towards tighter and tighter rules on asylum, the perspectives have been narrowed,” Abir Al-Sahlani, a former MP for the liberal Centre party who campaigned in 2011 against the deportation of a 91-year-old Ukrainian woman, said. “It is amazing for me as a liberal that it is taking shape under a Social Democratic government … Decency has retreated; this is a dramatic change in the Swedish debate.”
Malin Björk, a Left party MEP, said: “Across Europe we are seeing a criminalisation of solidarity with refugees.”
Ersson originally boarded the plane to prevent the deportation of 26-year-old Ismail Khawari. However, Khawari was not on the plane, and was deported separately. Seeing the other asylum seeker, Ersson decided to continue her protest nonetheless.
She told Swedish media: “My starting point is that he [the deportee onboard the plane] is human and deserves to live. In Sweden we do not have the death penalty, but deportation to a country at war can mean death. If someone has committed a crime, they may be jailed and serve their sentence in Sweden.”