I have no idea whatsoever what happened that evening in the streets of Stockholm in late June that led to the detention of three U.S. citizens — including the rapper A$AP Rocky — and to them facing assault charges.
But once upon a time, I was prime minister of Sweden, so I have to confess to having a certain knowledge of both the powers and the limitations of that office.
I certainly hope that what really happened will be sorted out by the courts without undue delay. Everyone is equal before the law, and everyone should have an interest in a speedy resolution of the case.
But the case has acquired a certain prominence since President Trump jumped to the defense of the most famous suspect. True to form, Trump has launched a number of tweets to demand “FREEDOM” and in general terms expressed his dissatisfaction with both Sweden and its prime minister for not immediately doing what he wants.
Trump isn’t particularly known for taking up individual cases of this sort. If he is known for anything, it’s being ready to turn a blind eye — even to murder. But in this case, one can see that he had very specific political reasons for demanding that these three people are immediately sent back home.
So let’s just say he didn’t have the inner workings of Sweden’s legal system in mind. Here’s an unsolicited briefing.
As prime minister, you can have your government propose laws and try to get parliament to decide on them, but once that’s done, your role in how they are implemented is absolutely zero. There certainly are countries around the world where the judiciary is little more than an instrument of the arbitrary powers of the ruling strongman, and where the political leadership can send people in and out of prison at their discretion. Sweden is most certainly not one of those countries.
A Swedish prime minister who tries to order a court to release a suspect or dismiss a case is first going to fail and then, with high probability, will be kicked out of office.
I wouldn’t say that our judiciary necessarily handles every single case in a way that is beyond any reproach, but its independence is far preferable to a system of arbitrary justice influenced by the whims of politics, be they domestic or foreign. The independence of the judiciary is rightly seen as a hallmark of a truly free society. In this we are no different from the United States.
In addition to being a free country, we are also a small country. Based on historical experience, we tend to be somewhat allergic to larger powers, be they in our immediate vicinity or not, trying to influence who is brought to justice in our country. If you cave in to one, you could be certain that others might try to do the same. The United States is a country friendly to us — others might not necessarily fit that description.
The three U.S. suspects will get a fair trial. No one doubts that. The outcome will be decided by the court — without any interference by any higher political authority within or outside of the country.
That’s the way it should be in a free society.