Sweden tears up arms agreement with Saudi Arabia over blocked speech

The Guardian reports: Sweden has torn up a decade-long arms agreement with Saudi Arabia after the Saudis blocked the Swedish foreign minister from speaking about human rights to a summit of Arab leaders.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, confirmed on Tuesday that the deal was off, removing a cause of division within the country’s left-leaning coalition but deepening a rift with business leaders who implored the government to prolong the agreement.

On Monday, foreign minister Margot Wallström complained at a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo that Saudi Arabia had objected to her planned speech on democracy and women’s rights. She had also condemned the sentencing of Saudi blogger Raef Badawi to a “medieval” punishment of 1,000 lashes.

But on Tuesday, Arab foreign ministers expressed “condemnation and astonishment” at Wallström’s remarks, which were “incompatible with the fact that the constitution of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on sharia [law],” according to a statement issued at the end of their Arab League meeting and published by Gulf News.

“Sharia has guaranteed human rights and preserved people’s lives, possessions, honour and dignity. The ministers consider the comments as irresponsible and unacceptable,” the statement said.

Sweden first signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Saudi Arabia in 2005, setting out details of cooperation on intelligence, surveillance and weapons manufacture, and paving the way for the sale of Saab’s Erieye radar system to the Saudis in 2010. The agreement had to be ratified by each side every five years, and its renewal date was due in May. [Continue reading…]


Sweden: More than ever, the land of internet freedom

Nouvel Observateur/Worldcrunch: “This is happening right now in Homs, Syria…” Hans Eriksson shows a shaky video of column of smoke just after a bombing from Bashar al-Assad’s troops.

Bambuser is the name of the service launched by this 44-year-old Swede, which allows any smartphone user to broadcast live what’s happening in front of him – without any censorship. The service is a precious resource for Arab Spring protesters.

“In these countries where information is – or was – under heavy surveillance, it is crucial to be able to show the details of the repression. The world needs to know,” says Eriksson. His service is used by CNN, the BBC and Al-Jazeera.

From 5,000 to 10,000 raw, unedited videos are uploaded every day by this 12-person start-up. Bambuser is the latest symbol of Sweden’s fight for freedom of speech on the Internet.

Three years ago, the country decided to take a stand for the promotion of freedom on the Internet. Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt launched a dialogue with companies on Internet freedom. He was soon followed by Hillary Clinton, who made an acclaimed speech on Internet freedom in 2010.

“Freedom of expression has always been a cornerstone of the Swedish government, we just extended it to the Internet,” says Ministry of Foreign Affairs Special Adviser Johan Hallenborg. “The freedom to say what we want on the Internet or anywhere else is a human right.” [Continue reading…]


Julian Assange loses extradition battle

The Guardian reports:

The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is to be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. Assange will appeal, his legal team has confirmed. If they lose he will be sent to Sweden in 10 days.

Speaking outside Belmarsh magistrates court in south-east London after the judgment, Assange attacked the European arrest warrant system.

He dismissed the decision to extradite him as a “rubber-stamping process”. He said: “It comes as no surprise but is nevertheless wrong. It comes as the result of a European arrest warrant system amok.”

There had been no consideration of the allegations against him, Assange said. His extradition would thrust him into a legal system he did not understand using a language he did not speak.

Assange said the US government by its own admission had been waiting to see the British court verdict before determining what action it could take against him.

Glenn Greenwald on the Assange extradition ruling, the jailing of Bradley Manning, and the campaign to target WikiLeaks supporters