A Swedish court this week sentenced a 16-year-old from North Africa in the death of a gay man found last June with a dead snake wrapped around his neck, which prosecutors called a hate crime.
Local media reported that the boy, who spent his early life in Algeria and Morocco and lived on the streets in a number of European countries before arriving in Sweden, has been sentenced to four years in a juvenile detention center and will then be deported. A 19-year-old Moroccan citizen accused of helping cover up the killing last month was sentenced to three months in detention for minor charges including trespassing and theft. He will also be expelled from Sweden because of his prior criminal record and because he originally petitioned for asylum in Germany. BuzzFeed News is not publishing the names of the individuals in this case out of legal and privacy concerns.
The two were arrested after the body of a 54-year-old man, originally from Vietnam, was found tied up and dead, dressed in women’s clothing in the apartment he shared with his Swedish partner outside the southwestern city of Gothenburg.
“A motive for the beating and murder was …. [the victim’s] sexual orientation as a homosexual and because he was a transvestite,” the indictment states, though his partner initially claimed that the boys dressed him in women’s clothing to humiliate him.
The charges against the attackers come amid a growing backlash against refugees and migrants in Europe and accusations that Swedish police covered up widespread sexual assault accusations against migrants. The Swedish anti-immigrant publication FriaTider wrote about the case as soon as it was first reported by the local paper, GT, and it soon became a topic of hot discussion on a Reddit-like Swedish website called Flashback. An activist connected with Sweden’s far right political party tried to provoke a confrontation last June by organizing a “gay pride march” through a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Stockholm, which was widely condemned by LGBT and immigrant rights groups.
In November, Sweden ended its liberal immigration policy as the number of arrivals climbed to more than 10,000 each week. The prosecutor, Lotta Nielsen, told BuzzFeed News that the case was especially disturbing because the boys were part of a growing number of unaccompanied immigrant children in the country.
“They have lived their life on the streets with no adults,” Nielsen wrote to BuzzFeed News in an email. “It is pretty unusual to have a case like this in Sweden. At the same time the number of unaccompanied refugee children are growing in Sweden.”
The court based the conviction largely on the boys’ own account of what happened that night, according to the judgment that was shared with BuzzFeed News. They claimed the victim, who was dressed as a woman, had lured the younger boy to his apartment after meeting him in a local park offering some old clothes. In the apartment, the boy claimed the victim revealed he was a man and sexually assaulted him. The boy claimed he smashed a bottle over the victim’s his head in self-defense and knocked him unconscious and then went downstairs to find the older boy.
The judge wrote in his decision in sentencing the 19-year-old that he accepted the older boy's defense that he helped the younger boy move the body because he was afraid he would hurt him if he did not do what he said.
One major piece of evidence that used by the prosecution to show this was a hate crime was a video from inside the apartment that police recovered from the younger boy’s cellphone.
“I slaughtered the fag, the son of a pimp, the son of the whore [who] says we should fuck his pussy,” the younger boy said in Arabic, according to a Swedish translation of the video provided to BuzzFeed News by the attorney for the victim’s partner. “He’s a chink — he played me, he played me, my brothers [like] Jackie Chan … Look what he did with my face, my brothers. Look my brothers, he removed my finger,” which his attorney told BuzzFeed News was in reference to a deep bite wound on his hand.
The younger boy’s attorney, Charlotte Bokelund, told BuzzFeed News in a December interview that the boy had shot the film to document he had been assaulted by the victim and acted in self-defense. The victim’s partner was out of town when the incident occurred so the body was not found until more than 24 hours later, and Bokelund argued that someone else must have defaced it during that time.
Bokelund said her client had nothing to do with the snake — which was kept in a bottle of alcohol in the apartment. “My guy doesn’t like any snakes,” she said.
This story has been updated to include details of the sentencing of the second defendant in this case.