Freedom in the World
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In September 2006 parliamentary elections, a four-party coalition led by Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate Party defeated the incumbent Social Democratic Party. Two weeks before the voting, it was revealed that the Liberal Party, one of the opposition coalition members, had repeatedly hacked into the Social Democrats’ computer system in order to obtain information about their election strategy.
After centuries of wars and monarchical unions with its neighbors, Sweden emerged as a liberal constitutional monarchy in the nineteenth century. Norway ended its union with the country in 1905, leaving Sweden with its current borders. 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 continued to avoid military alliances, including NATO.
The population overwhelmingly rejected adoption of the EU’s euro currency in a referendum in September 2003, despite strong support from government and business leaders. The “no” vote was widely attributed to popular fears of deterioration in Sweden’s generous welfare benefits and damage to the national economy. The 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. Lindh’s confessed killer, Mijailo Mijailovic, was sentenced to life in prison. An appeals court found that he should be committed to psychiatric care instead, but the Supreme Court confirmed the prison sentence in December 2004. The appeals court ruling had been met with general dismay by the Swedish public and 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 with the knowledge that Egypt often tortured detainees. In November 2006, the UN Human Rights Committee again found Sweden guilty of violating the ban in the same case. The case involved the U.S. practice of extraordinary rendition, in which terrorism suspects were secretly transferred from one country to another for potentially coercive interrogation. The two suspects in Sweden, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zery, were flown to Egypt aboard a Gulfstream jet leased to the CIA. Both were tortured by Egyptian officials despite Egypt’s assurances that they would be treated humanely. Agiza was eventually sentenced by a military court to 15 years in prison for being a member of an illegal organization, while al-Zery was freed. In 2006, Sweden was ordered to compensate Agiza through monetary grants or asylum in Sweden and to make legislative changes that would prohibit the use of diplomatic assurances. None of these orders had been carried out by year’s end.
In the September 2006 parliamentary elections, a four-party, center-right alliance headed by Fredrik Reinfeldt of the Moderate Party defeated the Social Democratic Party, which had been in power for 12 years. The Social Democrats had dominated politics since the 1920s, ruling for all but 10 of the previous 89 years. They won 130 parliamentary seats in the latest balloting. The Moderates took 97 seats; the Center Party, 29 seats; the Liberal Party, 28 seats; the Christian Democrats, 24 seats; the Left Party, 22 seats; and the Greens, 19 seats. High unemployment was a major issue in the 2006 elections.
Just two weeks before the vote, Sweden had experienced what was described as its greatest political scandal since the 1930s. During the early run-up to the elections, members of the opposition Liberal Party had hacked into the Social Democrats’ computer system, allegedly to steal information about their campaign strategy. The revelation did not decisively affect the outcome of the election; the center-right coalition, which included the Liberal Party, won with 48 percent of the vote. However, criminal charges were brought against six people involved in the scandal, including former party secretary Johan Jakobsson, Press Officer Niki Westerberg, the party secretary of the party’s youth wing, and a former journalist from the Expressen who aided party members in hacking into the internal network. The case remained ongoing at year’s end.
Sweden is an electoral democracy. The unicameral Parliament, the Riksdag, has 349 members elected every four years in a proportional representation system. A party must receive at least 4 percent of the vote in the entire country or 12 percent in one of the 29 electoral districts 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 the monarch is largely limited to ceremonial functions.
Seven political parties are currently represented in the Riksdag. The largest is the Social Democratic Party, also known as the “Workers’ Party,” which led Sweden for the majority of the last century with the aid of the Left Party and the Green Party. Other parties include the Moderates, who represent an ideology that mixes liberalism and conservatism; the Liberals, considered center-right in Sweden’s left-leaning political system; the Christian Democrats, who appeal to center-right evangelical voters; and the Center Party, which focuses on agricultural and rural politics.
The principal religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in Parliament. Since 1993, the indigenous Sami community has elected its own parliament, which has significant powers over community education and culture and serves as an advisory body to the government.
Corruption rates are very low in Sweden, which was ranked 6 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, recent instances of corporate graft have stained Sweden’s image. In December 2004, 77 employees of the state-owned alcohol retail monopoly Systembolaget were formally charged with bribery. Ten people at state-owned Vin och Sprit, the maker of Absolut Vodka, were prosecuted for bribery in 2006. Liberal Party secretary Johan Jakobsson resigned following the 2006 election scandal, in which it was revealed that the Liberals had hacked into the computer systems of the incumbent Social Democratic Party. Agence France-Presse reported that the Liberal Party had hacked into its opponent’s system 78 times between January and March 2006 in order to obtain strategy secrets. Jakobsson resigned after admitting that he had learned about the activity but did little to stop or expose it. Sweden’s new trade minister, Maria Borelius, resigned after being accused of tax evasion. An official at the Ministry of Industry was sentenced to 18 months in prison for fraud. Other minor incidents of corruption in government led to fines.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed by law, and the country has one of the most robust freedom of information laws in the world. 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 March 2006, Foreign Minister Leila Freivalds resigned after pressure from the ministry forced the closure of a far-right party’s website in February. The website had reportedly been preparing to publish Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad that sparked an international furor at the beginning of the year. Internet access is unrestricted.
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. In November 2005, a mosque in Stockholm was found to be selling media products with anti-Semitic messages. Police seized the materials, which, in 2006, were found not to have violated Sweden’s hate-speech laws. Academic freedom is ensured for all.
Freedoms of assembly and association are guaranteed, as are the rights to strike and organize in labor unions. Domestic and international human rights groups generally operate in the country without government restrictions. Trade union federations are strong and well organized, representing about 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 2005, Swedish authorities released Abdi Qeybdid, a Somali colonel, because of insufficient evidence linking him to genocide in his country. He had been detained a few days earlier based in part on a video allegedly implicating him in the execution of two men in 1991. Qeybdid had been a top aide to Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed, who fought U.S. and UN forces in the early 1990s. Swedish prisons generally meet international standards, although overcrowding and lengthy pretrial detentions sometimes occur.
The government maintains effective control of the security and armed forces. However, in May 2005, the UN Committee against Torture ruled that Sweden had violated the absolute ban on torture in 2001 by expelling two terrorism suspects to Egypt, 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 2003, Sweden passed a hate-crimes law that addressed attacks against homosexuals and covered hate speech. Reverend Ake Green was sentenced in 2004 to one month in jail for hate speech after denouncing homosexuality in his sermon, but the conviction was overturned in 2005. In April 2005, Leif Liljestrom was sentenced to two months in jail for posting material offensive to homosexuals on his website. He was cleared of violating Sweden’s hate-speech laws in 2006 on the grounds that he had simply expressed his Christian views, but he was then sentenced to one month in jail for allowing others to post offensive materials on his website.
The number of people seeking asylum in Sweden continued to drop, according to a report issued by the Migration Board in March 2005. The decline is due to increasingly tight immigration policies, which have led to the rejection of 9 out of 10 applications for asylum on the first attempt. In September 2005, the government agreed to change the immigration laws to allow a reevaluation of failed asylum seekers who remain illegally in the country.
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 to allow lesbian couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, including access to in vitro fertilization.
Sweden is a leader in gender equality. At 47 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 80 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 is a destination and transit point for the trafficking in persons, particularly women and children, for sexual exploitation. The Aliens Act, which was enacted in October 2004, helped to provide more assistance to trafficking victims. In 2006, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced its intention to appoint a “special ambassador” to aid in combating human trafficking.