Stockholm: Swedish police have ordered an investigation into allegations that officers covered up accusations of sexual assault by mostly migrant youths at a music festival in Stockholm.
The investigation comes after internal police reports published in Swedish media said about 50 suspects carried out sexual assaults against teenage girls at the We are Sthlm youth festival in August. Assaults also occurred in 2014 at the same festival, which attracts thousands of people.
"It's a double betrayal of these young women," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told Expressen newspaper.
"It has not been prosecuted and handled in the way we would wish. The second is that police did not inform or tell about these problems."
Swedish media have drawn comparisons to attacks on women in Cologne and other German cities on New Year's Eve that prompted more than 600 criminal complaints, with police suspicion resting mostly on asylum seekers.
Sweden faces a backlash among many voters after a record 163,000 asylum seekers arrived last year, part of a wave of immigration that has seen the far-right Sweden Democrats become one of the country's biggest political parties.
Quoting internal police reports and police who were there, Dagens Nyheter newspaper painted a picture of sexual assaults at the festival, which had escalated in 2014 and more so in 2015, committed mostly by young Afghans.
According to police documents seen by Reuters, in 2015, police received 20 complaints of sexual crimes – 14 of which concerned girls under the age of 15, some as young as 11 – in the area during the festival. In 2014 there were 18 complaints.
There was no mention of ethnicity of perpetrators in the files, and a police spokesman could not immediately provide a figure of how many of the cases had been prosecuted.
Police at the time described the 2015 event as one with "relatively few crimes".
However, some officials said police were concerned that assault reports could have boosted the far right.
National police chief Dan Eliasson said on Monday political considerations should not be part of their activities.
"We have to get to the bottom of this," Mr Eliasson told a news conference, adding the investigation would look at whether police officers had committed any crimes.
The police on Monday said that they should have shared more information.
"We should certainly have written and told people about this, no doubt," a Stockholm police spokesman, Varg Gyllander, told Dagens Nyheter, according to The Local. "Why it did not happen, I do not know."
He denied there had been a cover-up, according to Swedish news reports, and he said that a police investigation was under way.
David Brax, a researcher of hate crimes at the University of Gothenburg, said by phone that the accusations would help agitate an already intensifying backlash towards immigrants as countries across Europe were grappling with fears that terrorists and criminals were seeking to enter the Continent by masquerading as refugees.
He noted that the police might have hesitated to publicise the assaults for fear of stoking revenge attacks against immigrants.
Until recently, Sweden and Germany, both wealthy countries with relatively generous welfare programs, have been among the most welcoming countries towards immigrants.
Last week, Sweden introduced new identity checks for travellers arriving from Denmark, prompting its neighbour to impose new controls on people crossing the border with Germany. The moves by the two countries were the latest blow to borderless travel across much of the Europe, a cornerstone of European integration.
Mr Brax said the emerging scandal in Sweden would embolden the far-right anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, which won almost 13 per cent of the vote in a 2014 general election.
"It will probably be a boon for the populist far right, who are now celebrating that there is now proof that media and police are covering up crimes perpetrated by immigrants," he said. "They are having a field day."
Reuters, The New York Times
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