12:23 GMT16 January 2021
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    Sweden's Jagarhar (#Iamhere), a left-leaning pro-government non-profit, dubbed by The Guardian "the online love army", was meant to fight "hate speech" on the web. However, crossing Jagarhar's path has cost a Swedish academic her career and later led to an abrupt arrest.

    On 16 October 2019, Swedish scientist Bilyana Martinovski, Associate Professor in Human-Machine Interaction and PhD in Linguistics with an excellent 27-year academic record, was abruptly arrested at Stockholm Airport on her arrival from a vacation in Egypt. After being taken into custody by a total of about 10 armed policemen the academic was taken to a remote police station.

    The only question she had was "Did they mistake me for a terrorist?"

    Like any other law abiding Swedish citizen the professor believed that she had the right to due process. However, by Martinovski's account, law enforcement officials treated her rudely and tactlessly not allowing her to be accompanied by a witness, explaining nothing and searching her body and belongings. She, furthermore, recollects that she was questioned without a lawyer being present.

    The professor was taken by surprise: she had never been treated like this before. Martinovski is a Yugoslavian-born Bulgarian she has lived in Sweden for many years and was employed by Gothenburg University and later Stockholm University. She also spent eight years in the US, working for the University of California, Santa Barbara, and University of Southern California.  

    "They never mentioned any law articles or codes, didn't serve me with a call for interrogation or a reason for such a call, didn't even show me any documents authorising my arrest and interrogation, didn't give me access to the police report, or to the prosecutors' decision or to formulations of crimes they suspected me of, nothing", she says.

    After keeping the academic at the police station for hours law enforcement officials eventually took DNA samples without asking for her consent.

    She was released late at night and cast out of the police building into the dark cold streets of a suburban Stockholm area completely unknown to her.

    The Gothenburg police office that is investigating the Martinovski case did not provide any details on the circumstances of the professor's sudden arrest to a Sputnik journalist.

    "The public prosecutor, Sara Toreskog, who is the person in charge of this investigation has decided not to give out anything regarding the investigation for now. This because it is an ongoing investigation", Criminal Inspector Susanna Carlsen wrote on 28 October in response to the journalist's request for information.

    Martinovski recalls that after the DNA sampling, the police officer read her the following sentence: "You are here because you are a suspect of a libel on Twitter against Kajsa Klein [Jagarhar communications leader] which caused her distress ('ofredande') in the period between September 2017 and [March or May] 2018'".

    Jagarhar: The "Online Love Army" Silencing Dissenting Views

    Klein is a member of Jagarhar, a pro-government network of tens of thousands of volunteers monitoring social media that was founded by Iranian-born Swedish journalist Mina Dennert on 13 May 2016. The organisation's declared aim is to fight hatred and xenophobia on the web. To that end Jagarhar holds social media debates, writes articles, delivers lectures, carries out investigations, and reports "questionable" web content to the authorities.

    The group quickly came to prominence being lauded in the Swedish government's 2017 action plan "To the defence of the free word" ("Till det fria ordets försvar") as a viable tool to fight online extremism. Samhällsnytt reporter Egor Putilov – an alias for Swedish journalist Martin Dahlin – revealed that Swedish celebrities and even some government officials had joined the network's ranks.

    Jagarhar's campaigns, however, are very often directed at journalists, opinion makers, and debaters on the conservative and libertarian half of Sweden's political spectrum, Dahlin noted referring to Swedish authors Katerina Janouch and Ann Heberlein, who have also been targeted by the anti-hate group.

    One of the issues of particular interest to Jagarhar is migrant-related crimes, the discussion of which has been regarded as racism and right-wing extremism by the group, as a Jagarhar insider outlined in his/her story published by Janouch in her blog Katerina Magasine in July 2017.

    Ann Heberlein, a co-author of "Tyst! Hotet mot yttrandefriheten" ("Quiet! The threat to freedom of speech"), highlighted that the "anti-hate" group had reported about 700 people to the police for thoughts they've expressed online. Police reports, in some cases with convictions, have hit many undeservedly, the journalist argued.

    A special force police officer patrols near the department store Ahlens following a suspected terror attack on the Drottninggatan street in central Stockholm, Sweden, Saturday, April 8, 2017
    © AP Photo / Markus Schreiber
    A special force police officer patrols near the department store Ahlens following a suspected terror attack on the Drottninggatan street in central Stockholm, Sweden, Saturday, April 8, 2017

    Blackout of Gang Rape Stories

    Martinovski's case is no exception from this trend. The story started in September 2017 when a spike in gang rapes sparked a heated debate on the web amid the government's open border policy and mainstream Swedish media's blackout of stories concerning growing crime rates in the country.

    Martinovski recalls that the media silence prompted her to search for information on the web. In the Spring of 2017, she stumbled upon a US-hosted and now defunct website, GangRapeSweden.com, that presented court verdicts on gang rape cases from 2011 to 2017 in Sweden. She says that she was shocked both by the huge number of cases and the detailed descriptions of hideous sexual assaults mostly committed by newcomers from the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. The professor notes that she couldn't believe her eyes and decided to check the data.

    "I called the courts and asked for the court ledgers over all gang rapes between 2011 and 2017. The court ledgers I got from the courts showed about 50,000 rape cases but less than 7 percent [of attackers] were convicted", the academic says, adding that the majority of convicted gang rapists came from outside of Europe.

    During the refugee crisis that has engulfed Europe since 2015, Sweden accepted more refugees per capita than any other country. Between 2013 and 2018, 806,155 people were awarded residency in the Scandinavian state, i.e. almost 10 percent of the entire population.

    Martinovski was seriously concerned about the underreported gang rape situation in the country, especially given the fact that those foreign assailants were not deported from Sweden thus posing a danger to other women.

    The professor, however, soon found out that GangRapeSweden and other sites containing information about migrant-related sex abuse were reported and shut down at the request of left-leaning Swedish organisations, in particular, Jagarhar.

    On 16 September 2017, Martinovski raised the topic on her private Twitter account expressing bewilderment over Jagarhar's attempts to silence the gang rape issue, while one of the entity's declared aims was to fight harassment and predatory sexual behaviour.

    In one of her tweets, she wondered if it was true that Kajsa Klein, Jagarhar's communications strategist, was censuring dissenting voices which prompted the left-leaning organisation to attack the academic.

    Jagarhar's Kajsa Klein Took Action

    In response, Kajsa Klein wrote a series of denunciations to Martinovski's employers and colleagues accusing the professor of alt-right sympathies and xenophobia. The social network group proved to be very influential as the academic was soon fired from Stockholm University, being deprived of a research affiliation and any possibility of finding a job in higher educational establishments in Sweden.

    Letter by Jagarhar communications strategist Kajsa Klein to Gothenburg University about Associate Professor Bilyana Martinovski's tweets
    © Photo : Bilyana Martinovski/screenshot
    Letter by Jagarhar communications strategist Kajsa Klein to Gothenburg University about Associate Professor Bilyana Martinovski's tweets

    "My name is Kajsa Klein and the past week I was slandered on Twitter by a person whose name is Bilyana Martinovski, who links to you in her Twitter profile", the Jagarhar strategist wrote to Martinovski's employers at Gothenburg University on 21 September 2017. "Apparently, her webpage is ssski.gu.se/bilyana? Guess this person is no longer working with you? Until Monday she used to be an affiliated researcher at Stockholm University's DSV, but they decided to break off with her because of her tweeting. I would like to inform you about this, which is a police matter and part of a larger doxxing of Jagarhar, where I am active by far-right extremists, and which the newspaper Dagens Nyheter wrote about".

    Letter by Jagarhar communications strategist Kajsa Klein to Gothenburg University about Associate Professor Bilyana Martinovski's tweets
    © Photo : Bilyana Martinovski/screenshot
    Letter by Jagarhar communications strategist Kajsa Klein to Gothenburg University about Associate Professor Bilyana Martinovski's tweets

    In another letter, addressed to the head of a Section of Communication and Semantics at Gothenburg University, Klein claimed that Martinovski is an "alt-right" extremist: "Yes, far-right, alt-right, etc. SU [Stockholm University] said the only thing she appears to like is Putin. Maybe Trump... The case rests with the democracy and hate speech department of the Stockholm Police".

    In a post scriptum Klein noted: "If I were you, I would have contacted her (I know that Uno Fors of SU has her gmail address) and urged her to stop linking to GU [Gothenburg University]. If I were you I would also have taken down her page (if it is true that she no longer works with you). Just a suggestion though..."

    Commenting on these letters, the professor highlights that her private Twitter account "has never claimed to represent SU or GU". She further notes that at that time Klein's comments about a supposed police inquiry was a lie aimed at casting a shadow on her: Martinovski specifically asked the authorities if there had been any case initiated against her and found out that there wasn't any. That means that Klein resorted to nothing short of defamation, the academic says, posing the question as to what her crime actually was.

    "I am not an activist, not a member of any organisations, groups", Martinovski says. "I just read, as a private person, world news on Twitter and now and then comment or ask questions. We had no idea who raped all these thousands of women and children, so I wanted to find out in order to take informed decisions when I vote and design research that could be socially competent and helpful".

    The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik


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