Freedom in the World
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In May 2005, the UN Committee against Torture ruled that Sweden had violated the absolute ban on torture by expelling two terrorist suspects to Egypt in 2001. Sweden had one of the highest casualty tolls of countries outside of Asia during the Asian tsunami in December 2004; in February 2005, Swedish police released a list of 565 people who were killed or who went missing in the tsunami. In December 2004, Mijailo Mijailovic, the confessed killer of Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, was sentenced to life in prison.
After a series of monarchical alliances with Finland, Denmark, and Norway in the eleventh through nineteenth centuries, Sweden emerged as a modern democracy. Its tradition of neutrality, beginning with World War I, was altered somewhat by its admission to the European Union (EU) in 1995 and was further eroded by a more pragmatic approach to security first presented in 2002. However, Sweden has retained its commitment not to join military alliances, including NATO.
The Social Democrats, led by Prime Minister Goran Persson, have dominated politics since the 1920s. During the last parliamentary elections in 2002, the Social Democrats won 39.8 percent of the vote; the Moderates, 15.2 percent; the Liberal Party, 13.3 percent; the Christian Democrats, 9.1 percent; the Left Party, 8.3 percent; the Center Party, 6.1 percent; and the Greens, 4.6 percent. With their partners, the Left (formerly Communist) Party and the Greens, the Social Democrats secured 191 out of the legislature's 349 seats, promising not to reduce the generous welfare system. Seventy-nine percent of eligible Swedes voted in the poll.
The population overwhelmingly rejected the adoption of the euro in a referendum in September 2003, despite strong support from government and business. The no vote was generally attributed to popular fears of deterioration in Sweden's generous welfare state benefits and damage to the Swedish economy. The no vote may also have been a reflection of skepticism about the EU as a whole.
On September 10, 2003, just days before the referendum, Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was mortally wounded in a knife attack in a Stockholm department store. The killing sparked considerable debate about security in Sweden, where such violence is very rare and politicians regularly travel without bodyguards in order to maintain direct contact with citizens. Lindh's confessed killer, Mijailo Mijailovic, was sentenced to life in prison in December 2004; the sentence overturned an appeals court decision that had sentenced him to psychiatric care. The appeals court ruling had been met with general dismay by the Swedish population and had elicited widespread criticism of the Swedish psychiatric care system.
The UN Committee against Torture ruled in May 2005 that Sweden had violated the absolute ban on torture by expelling two suspected terrorists to Egypt in 2001. The United Nations stated that Sweden should have known Egypt often tortures detainees. In one of the first cases of extraordinary rendition, the suspects, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zery, were flown to Egypt aboard a Gulfstream jet leased to the CIA. Both suspects were tortured by Egyptian officials despite assurances by the latter that they would be treated humanely. Agiza was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison for being a member of an illegal organization, while al-Zery was freed by the military court that tried them.
Sweden had one of the highest casualty tolls of countries outside of Asia during the Asian tsunami in December 2004. Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for Swedish tourists during the winter months. In February 2005, Swedish police released a list of 565 people who were killed or had gone missing as a result of the tsunami. The controversial list, which the police did not release originally in order to protect the privacy of the victims' relations, was released only after a Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the information was not "invasive."
Citizens of Sweden can change their government democratically. The unicameral parliament, the Riksdag, has 349 members, 310 of whom are elected every four years in a proportional system. The remaining 39 seats are awarded on a national basis to further secure proportional representation. A party must receive at least 4 percent of the votes in the entire country or 12 percent in a single electoral district to qualify for any seats. The prime minister is appointed by the Speaker of the Riksdag and confirmed by the Riksdag. King Carl XVI Gustaf, crowned in 1973, is head of state, but royal power is limited to official and ceremonial functions.
The principal religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in parliament. Since 1993, the Sami community elects its own parliament, which has significant powers over community education and culture and serves as an advisory body to the government.
Corruption is very low in Sweden, which was ranked 6 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, recent instances of corporate graft have stained Sweden's image. In December 2003, executives from the insurance group Skandia were investigated and found culpable of fraudulent accounting and of reaping millions of kroner in excessive bonuses. In December 2004, around 77 employees of the state-owned alcohol retail monopoly Systembolaget were formally charged with bribery.
Sweden has one of the most robust freedom of information laws in the world. According to the BBC, the country's law aims to ensure that all actions by public authorities that concern the citizenry are open to scrutiny.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed by law. However, hate-speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt for people based on their race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation. Sweden's media are independent. Most newspapers and periodicals are privately owned, and the government subsidizes daily newspapers regardless of their political affiliation. The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation and the Swedish Television Company broadcast weekly radio and television programs in several immigrant languages. The ethnic press is entitled to the same subsidies as the Swedish-language press. In August, the Norrkopings Tidningar, a daily newspaper, received a note threatening to bomb the newspaper's offices if it did not cease carrying reports about organized crime. There were no government restrictions on access to the internet.
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Although the country is 87 percent Lutheran, all churches, as well as synagogues and mosques, receive some state financial support. Academic freedom is ensured for all.
Freedom of assembly and association is guaranteed, as are the rights to strike and participate in unions. Domestic and international human rights NGOs generally operate in the country without government restrictions. Trade union federations are strong and well organized and represent approximately 80 percent of the workforce.
Sweden's judiciary, which includes the Supreme Court, district courts, and a court of appeals, is independent. Swedish courts are allowed to try suspects for genocide committed abroad. In October, the BBC reported that Abdi Qeybdid, a Somali colonel, was released from custody in Sweden because of insufficient evidence linking him to genocide in his country in the early 1990s; he had been arrested for his alleged involvement in attacks on U.S. forces in the 1990s. Prisons generally met international conditions, although overcrowding and lengthy pretrial detentions existed.
The government maintains effective control of the security and armed forces. However, in May, the UN Committee against Torture ruled that Sweden had violated the absolute ban on torture by expelling two terrorist suspects to Egypt in 2001, where they were eventually tortured. The late foreign minister, Anna Lindh, was eventually found by a parliamentary investigation to have approved of the deportations.
In its third report on Sweden, issued in June, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance lauded the country for making progress combating racism, particularly in terms of civil law provisions against discrimination, as well as increased funding of institutions and organizations working against racism and racial discrimination. In 2003, Sweden passed a hate crimes law that includes attacks against homosexuals and covers hate speech.
A report by the Swedish Integration Board issued in October demonstrated an increase in intolerance toward immigration, as well as growing racial harassment towards Muslims. However, the report also showed a decline in support for anti-immi-grant parties in the country, the Sweden Democrats and National Democrats. The number of people seeking asylum in Sweden continued to drop, according to a report issued by the Migration Board in March. The drop is due to increasingly tighter immigration policies, which have led to 9 out of 10 applications for asylum being rejected on the first go-round. In September, the government agreed to change the immigration laws to allow a reevaluation of failed asylum seekers who remain illegally in the country.
Sweden is a leader in gender equality. At 45 percent, the proportion of females in the Riksdag is the highest of any parliament in the world, and half of all government ministers are women. Although 79 percent of women work outside of the home, women still make only 70 percent of men's wages in the public sector and 76 percent in the private sector; the government has announced efforts to close this gap.
Sweden gave formal recognition to adoption by gay couples for the first time in February 2003. In 2005, Sweden amended its laws on artificial insemination allowing lesbian couples the same rights, including access to in vitro fertilization, as heterosexual couples.
Sweden is a destination and transit point for the trafficking in persons, particularly women and children, for sexual exploitation. Four Estonians were accused in January 2005 of running a major prostitution ring from December 2003 to April 2004. According to the U.S. State Department 2005 trafficking in persons report, the country has made significant efforts against trafficking, with the issue being one of the government's highest priorities in 2004. The Aliens Act, which was enacted in October 2004, helped to provide more assistance to trafficking victims.
In 2005, Sweden organized a conference on "honor killings" that was attended by key politicians in areas where such violence is suspected of taking place. In 2001, a 26-year-old girl of Kurdistan descent in Sweden was killed by her father for supposedly bringing shame on her family by going out with a Swedish man.