In mid-June, the Swedish judiciary ruled out any crime behind the death of the renowned Swedish visual artist Lars Vilks.
Vilks, 75, died in a car accident last October. He was in a bulletproof car which collided with a truck on a highway killing him along with the two police officers who were guarding him.
He was famous for drawing Prophet Muhammad cartoons in 2007. Muslims consider the cartoons insulting to their Prophet.
He had been under guard since 2010 after he received death threats over his cartoons.
Shortly after Vilks’ death, Samnytt.se, a local right-wing news website, offered for sale a T-shirt with a poster that hailed Vilks. A large segment of Muslims in Sweden considered the drawing provocative.
The black and white poster, “Tribute to Lars Vilks”, depicts Vilks walking a dog on a leash, and the dog has a beturbanned human head while walking a dog on a leash, and the dog has a beturbanned human head instead of a dog’s one.
The white summer crew neck T-shirt can be purchased at SEK 199 (USD 19) in different sizes. One can also buy another T-shirt with the same price with the logo of the news site printed on it.
Controversial Swedish street artist Dan Park told Daraj that he had commissioned the painting at Samnytt’s request in tribute to Vilks.
Park used a historical Islamic depiction of Prophet Muhammad which he “found on Google”. He added that a general ban on depicting the Prophet in Islam is a “misunderstanding”.
Park’s poster is a message “to the politically correct elite” to “keep Islam’s threat to freedom of expression on a leash”.
Park complained that one cannot criticize or joke about Islam in Sweden, “even though art should be provocative and norm-breaking.”
Park described Vilks as “a great advocate of freedom of expression who had to suffer for it with death threats and expulsion from the politically correct Swedish cultural life and showed the hypocrisy in the art world”.
Park explains that his street art which he glues on electrical cabinets has always been on black and white since the 1990s. He chose the two colours to show a “harder aesthetic”. “With colour there is a risk that it will be too happy and lively, and the motif will not be as prominent in colour,” he added.
Daraj has sent questions to Samnytt’s editor-in-chief by email but received no response till date.
Park, 54, had called on the far-right Danish politician Rasmus Paludan to burn the Koran in Malmö. When police banned Paludan from entering Sweden, his followers burned the Koran in Malmö leading to riots.
The Swedish Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. However, the law criminalizes incitement against ethnic groups i.e. to publicly disseminate threatening or derogatory statements about a group of persons, with reference to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, creed or sexual orientation.
Park has multiple convictions for defamation, ethnic incitement and using hate speech, with sentences including fines and imprisonment on his record.
In 2009, the police investigated Park as he placed a swastika and packages labelled ‘Zyklon B’ in front of a synagogue and a Jewish community centre. ‘Zyklon B’ is a pesticide the Nazis used during the Holocaust.
In 2011, Park was convicted of defamation and ethnic incitement and handed a suspended sentence and a fine. That was for a poster he designed depicting a nude and chained Afro-Swedish student activist with the words: “Our Negro slave has run away.”
In 2014, a court ordered the destruction of nine of Park’s works, and sentenced him to six months in prison for defamation and ethnic incitement. At the same time, he had to pay SEK 60,000(USD 5,807) in compensation to people whom he featured in his work without their permission.
In 2018, a court sentenced Park to four months in prison for using racist insults on social media and alleging that rape culture was common among immigrants. The judges rejected his “unconvincing” claim that someone had used his account without him knowing.
In an exhibition in Poland in 2021, Park refused to answer questions about whether he sympathised with Nazism or not. He expressed support for “freedom of expression for all” including “Nazis and Muslims”.
Park is accused of having links to neo-Nazi groups in Sweden and the far-right anti-Islam PEGIDA movement. He also believes that “all Muslims in Sweden are Nazis”. He denied the Holocaust and expressed support for the Norwegian right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik, the perpetrator of the July 2011 Norway attacks.
Still, opinions about Park are divided. Lars Vilks had called him a “defender of free speech”. Park insists that his work is not racist, but rather a satirical commentary on events and against political correctness in Sweden. The fame of his works came due to the intensity of the public debate on the principle of freedom of expression, especially in Denmark, where his works have been displayed in parliament.
Swedish journalist Kolbjörn Guwallius has accused Dan Park of engaging in racist propaganda. Art journalist Øyvind Strømmen considered that Park’s street art often conveys a message of far-right extremism and that Park is at best a poser and provocateur, but likely worse than that.
Swedish art critic Robert Stasinski believes that Park’s works cannot qualify as art as it is not possible to defend that ″they are open to multiple possibilities of interpretation”. Stasinski thinks that neither Park nor his exhibitors have tried to give the images any broader artistic context. He concludes that it is “not a sign that Dan Park is a bad or undeveloped artist, it is probably a sign that he never wanted to be one.”
As for Park, he has stated that he turns against the direction society is going, if political winds blow to the right, Park goes to the left, if they blow to the left, he goes to the right.
Swedish newspapers described Samhällsnytt (or Samnytt) as “right-wing populists” that “incites hatred“.
Last October, Stockholm District Court imposed a suspended prison sentence against Mats Dagerlind, Samnytt’s editor-in-chief. The court convicted Dagerlind for gross defamation of Syrian-Swedish journalist Saeed Al-Nahhal from Dagens Nyheter newspaper.
In September 2020, Samnytt accused Al-Nahhal of being a “jihadist undercover” and published his picture.
The court ordered Dagerlind to pay SEK 30,000 (USD 2,853) in compensation to Al-Nahhal. In June, the Court of Appeal upheld Dagerlind’s conviction and denied any evidence of his allegations. Samnytt does not state its political orientation even though it is close to Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna). SD is a nationalist, populist, extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant party. Its roots go back to Swedish fascism and white nationalism. SD’s first secretary was active in the Nordic Realm Party, which was a Neo-Nazi political party in Sweden. SD’s representation in the parliament increased from 20 seats in 2010 to 62 seats in 2018 out of 349 seats. SD became the third largest party in Sweden. SD founded Samnytt in 2017 to replace Avpixlat blog. The party established Avpixlat in 2011 to replace Politiskt Inkorrekt (PI), which SD had founded in 2008. Swedish media outlets labelled Avpixlat and PI as far-right extremist, racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic. Media outlets accused Avpixlat of “spreading rumours and outright lies and attacking individuals of immigrant background”. In December 2012, Avpixlat called on readers to harass and film journalists and politicians, except from SD. Avpixlat continued that it will publish the recordings “at appropriate times”.