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23 Aug, 2018 22:05

‘Press E to destroy press’: Swedish MP in hot water over gun pics & declaring ‘war’ on media

‘Press E to destroy press’: Swedish MP in hot water over gun pics & declaring ‘war’ on media

A conservative member of the Swedish parliament has faced a barrage of criticism over some social media posts, in which he posed with guns and declared “war” on a top newspaper – reportedly amid a row over anti-migrant comments.

“Press E do destroy DN,” a post on the official Instagram account of the Swedish Moderate Party’s Hanif Bali said, referring to Dagens Nyheter, one of the most widely circulated Swedish dailies. The post, which has since been deleted, also featured an edited image where the parliamentarian was depicted holding two automated pistols and two assault rifles strapped on his back. 

The image also featured a caption reading: “Call of Duty: Hanif & DN at war” in a clear reference to a popular action shooter game franchise. The controversial post soon landed the lawmaker in hot water as other Swedish politicians as well as the media found it provocative and offensive.

“When we talk about the need to stand up for press freedom, for free and investigative media, a parliamentary representative from the Moderates cannot just come up with this! It is absolutely beyond all limits!” Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Loefven said, commenting on the scandal.

The leader of the Social Democratic faction in the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, Anders Ygeman, also slammed Bali by saying that what he did was “mindless” behavior. He also complained that it is not the first time that politicians got involved in controversies, adding that his party leadership apparently does not take his behavior seriously enough.

The Moderates’ leader, Ulf Kristersson, told Sweden’s SVT broadcaster that he is “concerned” about some of his party members tarnishing the image of the Moderates but added that it is not “his call” to take any disciplinary measures against Bali, even though he admitted having a “dialogue” with the MP about his behavior on the social media.

The party secretary, Gunnar Stroemmer, also told Swedish media that the picture, which was only shared by Bali, was intended to be a “satire” and was not aimed at stirring up hatred or serve as a real threat to the journalists.

Meanwhile, Bali added further fuel to the fire as he posted a photo of himself posing with an AR-15 rifle at a shooting range at one of the Swedish schools. He also could not help but attack the DN with another remark: “As [I] saw that the DN is upset with Skyttedal posing with weapons, [I] thought I would give them a heart attack by posing with an AR-15,” he wrote in a Twitter post, featuring the photo. He also referred to another MP, Sara Skyttedal, who was recently criticized by DN over posting weapon-brandishing photos. “A really nice shooting range at the Hoegsaetra School F-9,” he added.

His rant, however, apparently provoked a bigger stir than he expected as the Swedish Media Publishers' Association (TU) assailed him with sharp criticism.

“It is absolutely inappropriate and very unfortunate that an MP poses with weapons, directing his [threats] at Dagen Nyheter in this case,” Jeanette Gustafsdotter, the director of the TU, told DN, adding that the “threats are already serious enough.” She also warned that “talking about the media like enemies and opponents could lead to a disaster.”

“We take these … references with utmost seriousness. Just a few weeks ago, a man in [the Swedish town of] Sundsvall was charged with plotting the murder of journalists,” Gustafsdotter said, adding that “examples” set by MPs like Bali could encourage people to “support” such acts and vowing to “talk” to the Moderates leader about that.

Some politicians also pointed out that the picture provokes highly controversial associations as AR-15 is the weapon that has been often used by shooters in the US. “This is absolutely injudicious for a Riksdag member to pose with a semi-automatic weapon in a school building in a social media post. The AR-15 is not just some weapon; it is a weapon most commonly used in mass shootings in the US,” the Liberal Party leader, Jan Bjoerklund, said.

Facing a barrage of criticism, Bali eventually decided to remove his Call of Duty-themed post and issued an apology for his photo with a gun. “I am really sorry that this picture gives such associations,” he said in a Twitter post, adding that it had never been his intention to stir up any such feelings.

However, the controversial politician, who has been known for his outspoken behavior on social media and his anti-immigration stance –even though he himself came to Sweden from Iran– also appears to be eager to continue his “war” with the Swedish media on the social networks. Most recently, he posted another collage on Instagram, depicting him, Skyttedal and another politician as characters from a Harry Potter movie.

A post shared by Hanif Bali (@hanifb) on

“Hanif Bali and the eternal drive-by media,” the caption to the picture reads. In a post accompanying the picture, he said he has “returned to a film format after a short period in the gaming industry,” which is a clear reference to his deleted “Call of Duty” post. He also encouraged his followers to send his “funny memes.”

According to some media reports, the spat between Bali and DN was provoked by DN’s daily criticism of the MP in its ‘fact check’ piece, in which it called his statements about Sweden’s asylum seekers “completely wrong.”

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