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Swedish Activist Fined for Viral Live-Streamed Protest Against Deportation of Afghan Asylum Seeker

"It is right to save lives and wrong to be punished for trying."

Elin Ersson

Swedish activist Elin Ersson, 22, appeared in court over her anti-deportation protest earlier this month. (Photo: Adam Ihse/TT)

A district court in Gothenburg, Sweden on Monday fined 22-year-old Elin Ersson 3,000 kronor ($325) for violating aviation laws last July by refusing to take her seat on an airplane at Landvetter Airport in Sweden's second-largest city to protest the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker.

"Although it is not a lot of money, this is a clear signal about what sort of society we are becoming. It is right to save lives and wrong to be punished for trying."
—Fatemeh Khavari, Afghan refugee and activist

In a video Ersson live-streamed on Facebook—which has now been seen by millions of people across the globe—she said: "I want him to get off the plane because he is not safe in Afghanistan. I am trying to change my country's rules, I don't like them. It is not right to send people to hell."

Prosecutors charged that by refusing to comply with crewmembers' instructions to take her seat, Ersson had disobeyed the captain and violated the air traffic regulations. While her protest on the Turkish Airlines flight could have landed Ersson behind bars for up to six months, the judge declined the prosecution's request for jail time.

As the verdict stated, according to The Local Sweden, "In this case, Elin Ersson's actions took place when the plane was on the ground and although it led to palpable concern among other passengers, nothing else has emerged than that the plane was able to take off around half an hour late and continued to Istanbul without further problems."

Tomas Fridh, Ersson's attorney, told the Guardian that he was disappointed with the fine 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.

Ersson's ticket had been bought by the activist group Sittstrejken i Göteborg. "Her protest was originally meant to prevent the deportation of a 26-year-old failed asylum seeker named Ismail Khawari, but he was not on the plane and was deported the next day," according to Deutsche Welle. Her demonstration led to another Afghan asylum seeker—a man in his 50s who is a convicted criminal—being removed from the plane, but he was also ultimately deported.

Responding to the case's conclusion on Twitter, Christian Christensen, an American living in Sweden who is a professor of journalism at Stockholm University, noted that Ersson protested against the deportation on principle. As he put it, "That's the thing about principles: they come with complexity. Like being against the death penalty doesn't mean you support what the murderer did."

Sweden has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past decade, and received more than 21,000 asylum applications last year. Critics of restrictions implemented over the past few years in a push to curb migration pointed to the fine imposed on Ersson as a reflection of mounting anti-immigration sentiment in the Nordic country.

"Sweden has been going towards tighter and tighter rules on asylum, the perspectives have been narrowed," former lawmaker Abir Al-Sahlani told the Guardian. "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."

Afghan refugee and activist Fatemeh Khavari added: "Although it is not a lot of money, this is a clear signal about what sort of society we are becoming. It is right to save lives and wrong to be punished for trying."

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