Sweden: Court rules that city’s decision to join network to provide places of safety for writers is ‘outside its competence’


sevnka penSweden: Court rules that city’s decision to join network to provide places of safety for writers is ‘outside its competence’

In February this year, the local authorities in Gävle, Sweden decided to become a member of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN).  However, the Swedish Conservatives in the city appealed the decision. The ruling was made public on 1 July 2014 by the administrative court in Falun, and states that: “Membership of ICORN falls outside the local authority’s competence”.

The judgment found that membership of ICORN “gives repressive countries the impression that there exists an alternative to silence” which should be “considered to be a question of foreign affairs” which in turn is a state matter.

Henrik C. Enbohm, chair of Swedish PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee expressed concern about the decision, but does not think that the system itself is in danger.

We can’t ignore the fact that the decision is a major setback, for Gävle as well as for the safe haven network as such. But at the same time, we can see a steady increase of residencies in Sweden and there are no indications right now that the interest would in any way be declining. Quite the contrary: the interest and the need are increasing.

We have now established the kind of juridical testing of the system Swedish Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, requested earlier. It now remains to be seen what kind of effects this judgment will have.’

Ola Larsmo, chairman for Swedish PEN, also commented on the decision.

If the court’s ruling becomes a precedent, it means that every ICORN residency in Sweden would have to shut down and also end their membership in ICORN. Since ICORN is the foundation for the whole system, it also means that Sweden no longer can be a part of that kind of work.’

Presently there are 10 ICORN residencies in Sweden. The city of Gävle would have been the 11th if the administrative law had taken another decision.

(Translation from Swedish: Elnaz Baghlanian /Swedish PEN)

Click here to read in Swedish.