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Last Updated: Friday, 11 February, 2005, 16:07 GMT
'Hate speech' pastor wins appeal
Pastor Aake Green after the verdict
The case has sparked interest across the world
A Swedish pastor who had been sentenced to 30 days in prison for inflammatory remarks about homosexuals has had his conviction overturned on appeal.

The court said Aake Green was protected by free speech laws and that his sermon, in which he likened homosexuals with "cancer", was not a crime.

The 63-year-old pastor made the remarks at a village church in 2003.

His case has pitted advocates of free speech against those wanting fiery remarks about minorities criminalised.

Observers say there were a number of homosexuals who opposed Mr Green's conviction at the appeal process.

"I'll go on preaching as usual but I won't be dedicating so much time to this issue," the visibly relieved pastor told reporters after the verdict was announced.

'Personal interpretation'

Mr Green was convicted in June 2004 but allowed to remain free pending appeal.

He was the first clergyman convicted under Swedish laws that make incitement to hatred against racial, religious or national groups illegal - legislation that was amended in 2003 to include homosexuals.

But the appeals court on Friday ruled that Mr Green's remarks did not constitute incitement to hatred against homosexuals, but merely reflected his own personal interpretation of the Bible.

"The minister's interpretation of Bible quotes is questionable as far as his choice of words is concerned, but its content hardly goes further than the Bible text that he referred to," the court said in a statement.

"The purpose of making agitation against gays punishable is not to prevent arguments or discussions about homosexuality, not in churches or in other parts of society."

Welcomed

The verdict was welcomed by members of the religious community.

It "indicates that the justice system works," Ralph Toerner, a priest from the Swedish branch of the British-based Holy Catholic Church, told the Associated Press.

"But at the same time, I think this should be a warning signal to preachers overall that they shouldn't use such coarse language when talking about something sensitive," he said.

And the case had also been watched from abroad.

Some Christian communities in the United States had criticised Mr Green's conviction, asking if priests should be consulting lawyers before delivering their sermons.

The case has also highlighted the sometimes difficult balance many European countries are seeking to strike between discouraging hate speech and ensuring personal freedoms.

Germany currently has the toughest hate speech laws among all European countries and bans public displays of the swastika.

In Mr Green's case, the appeal court's verdict is unlikely to be the last word on the issue, as the prosecution also has the right to appeal, the Associated Press reports.

As the pastor was going into appeal, so was the prosecution - seeking a six-month extension to the 30-day sentence.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Sweden
16 Dec 04 |  Country profiles


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