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United Nations expected to criticise Sweden’s record-long detentions

SWEDEN WITH NO UPPER LIMIT — He was incarcerated when he was twenty years old; he’s now celebrated his fourth birthday behind bars. At 1427 days jail time, he’s one of the uncharged suspects who’s spent the longest time in a Swedish remand prison. Twenty people in Sweden have been in prison on pre-trial detention for over one year. The United Nations Committee on Torture will again review the situation in Sweden.

On 4 November 2010, a twenty year old man turns up via video link at the Södertälje district court. He is suspected of being an accessory to murder, and he is remanded into custody after a short hearing. No one understood back then that he’d still be behind bars – without trial – four years later.

John Ausonius, Sweden’s infamous ‘Laser Man’, held the previous record: three years in detention without trial. But two of the record holders have been matched in the past six months. One is the person referred to in the media as the ‘Lonely Sailor’ who was convicted in the scandalous ‘cocaine case’; the other is the man of twenty four in a prison in Örebro.

This man of 24 years has been behind bars for 1427 days, whereof about 1000 days with ‘restrictions’. The environment is a lot tougher than an ordinary prison, and it normally means being locked up 23 out of 24 hours in a room of eight square metres. No visitors, no newspapers, no television, no workout room, and only a short time in a yard on the roof. The man’s lawyer Nils Uggla says he’s never seen anything like it in his 35 years of law practice.

‘He’s been behind bars for four Christmas holidays in a row. He’s had restrictions for two and one half years’, says Uggla. ‘I’ve made him read every book in the prison library and go to the gym every day, to keep him mentally healthy. He’s OK for now, but sometimes it’s been very bad.’

SvD requested a list from the Swedish correctional system with an overview from 1 October 2014 of the twenty individuals who’ve been incarcerated the longest without trial. This list shows that at least 20 people have been imprisoned for at least one year. They’re all men, with the oldest born in 1964 and the youngest born in 1991. And four of them have been in prison for more than one thousand days.

Both the European Council and the United Nations Committee on Torture have already criticised Sweden for the long detentions with their restrictions. It’s only Sweden and three other EU states that do not put an upper limit on pre-trial detention. The United Nations Committee on Torture explained in a letter that they do not want to comment on the situation right now, but instead refer to the fact that their council of experts will meet again in the beginning of November when Sweden, and perhaps the renewed criticism of Sweden, can be discussed.


Anne Ramberg, general secretary of the Swedish Bar Association, says the long detention times for the twenty at the top of the list are inhumane.

‘This is a serious problem. We’re quite unique in Sweden in allowing such long detention times and combining them with restrictions. A state with rule of law can’t have things like this.’

Anne Ramberg wants legislation to set the upper limit on detention. And until that happens, she wants the Swedish courts to show more responsibility and to place greater demands on the prosecution authority.

‘There’s thoughtless rubber stamping by the courts of whatever the prosecutors propose.’

Prosecutor-general Anders Perklev apologises for the long detention times.

‘This is definitely not good’, he says. ‘At the same time, there can be reasons a preliminary investigation takes a long time. We have to weigh things in the balance so we don’t lose more cases.’

Perklev appointed a workgroup to review pre-trial detention and restrictions, and they submitted their report in February. He then appointed a new workgroup to find ways to improve the status quo, and their report is due before the end of year.

‘We’re hoping we can limit these extremely long detention times’, says Perklev.