Fredrik Önnevall

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TV crew sentenced for helping 15-year-old Syrian get from Greece to Sweden

Reporter says despite a reduced sentence, the crew plans to appeal

CNN  — 

A reporter for a Swedish television station and two of his colleagues were sentenced to probation and community service on Thursday for smuggling a 15-year-old Syrian boy – who they said pleaded with them for help – out of Greece more than two years ago.

Swedish prosecutors accused reporter Fredrik Önnevall, along with a cameraman and an interpreter for Swedish public television broadcaster SVT, of smuggling the teen to Malmö, Sweden, in 2014. The group was in Greece filming a documentary about Europe’s migration crisis.

Sweden’s Aliens Act says anyone who “intentionally assists an alien to unlawfully enter or pass through Sweden,” an EU member state, Iceland, Norway or Switzerland faces a sentence of “imprisonment for at most two years.”

Önnevall said the teen, who has since gained a permanent residence permit in Sweden, was desperate to leave Greece and reunite with relatives in the Scandinavian nation, according to Swedish newspaper and CNN affiliate Expressen.

“He was in an extremely vulnerable situation and was terrified,” Önnevall said.

Lawyers for the SVT employees argued they should be acquitted because they acted for humanitarian reasons, but prosecutor Kristina Amilon pushed for a three-month prison sentence.

She said the film crew arranged the teen’s travel, including renting a car and taking him from Athens to the Greek coast, where he took a ferry to Italy before traveling through Denmark and eventually to Sweden, Expressen reported. The paper also reported the teen arranged his own fake ID documents.

In court, Önnevall and the two others said the teen paid for the trip himself, and they had only been his traveling companions.

Kristina Andersson, the chief councilor of the Malmo District Court, said the court decided on the reduced sentence, which includes 75 hours of community service, because the actions were done “for humanitarian reasons and because nobody got paid.”

“There is no reason to believe that they will commit crimes again,” Andersson said.

Despite the reduced sentence, Önnevall said, “We will appeal and we’ll see where it ends.”