Sweden | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2008

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In September 2007, the newspaper Nerikes Allehanda was threatened for printing a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad as a dog. The cartoon sparked separate protests by Sweden’s Muslim population. Also in September, the home of television reporter Trond Sefastsson was illegally raided by police.

After centuries of wars and monarchical unions with its neighbors, Sweden emerged as a liberal constitutional monarchy in the 19th 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 presented in 2002. However, Sweden has continued to avoid military alliances, including NATO.

Voters rejected adoption of the EU’s euro currency in a September 2003 referendum, despite strong support from government and business leaders. The “no” vote was attributed to skepticism about the EU and fears regarding the possible deterioration of welfare benefits and damage to the economy.

Just days before the referendum, Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was killed in a knife attack in Stockholm. Her 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 2004. The appeals court ruling had been met with general dismay and elicited criticism of the Swedish psychiatric care system.

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 and all but 10 of the previous 89 years. The Social Democrats won 130 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.

In September 2007, a bounty of some $100,000 was placed on the lives of cartoonist Lars Vilke and editor Ulf Johansson of the newspaper Nerikes Allehanda for their publication of a cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad as a dog. The Islamic State of Iraq, a militant grouping affiliated with al-Qaeda, issued the threat amid condemnation of the cartoon by Muslims in Sweden and leaders of several Muslim nations. Prime Minister Reinfeldt publicly supported the paper’s right to publish the cartoon.

Separately that month, the home of reporter Trond Sefastsson was illegally raided by police following allegations of fraud and bribery. Police seized journalistic material, including Sefastsson’s computer.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Sweden is an electoral democracy. The unicameral Parliament, the Riksdag, has 349 members elected every four years by proportional representation. A party must receive at least 4 percent of the vote nationwide or 12 percent in one of the 29 electoral districts to win representation. The prime minister is appointed by the speaker of the Riksdag and confirmed by the body as a whole. King Carl XVI Gustaf, crowned in 1973, is the largely ceremonial head of state.

Seven political parties are currently represented in the Riksdag. The largest is the Social Democratic Party, also known as the Workers’ Party, which ruled for most of the last century with the aid of the Left Party and the Green Party. Other parties include the Moderates, the center-right Liberals, the Christian Democrats, and the Center Party, which focuses on rural issues.

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 4 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, there have been political scandals in recent years. Liberal Party secretary Johan Jakobsson resigned after it was revealed that the Liberals had repeatedly hacked into the computer systems of the incumbent Social Democratic Party in early 2006 to obtain campaign strategy secrets. Jakobsson admitted that he had learned about the activity but did little to stop or expose it.

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by law, and the country has one of the most robust freedom of information statutes in the world. However, hate-speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt based on 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. Public broadcasters air weekly radio and television programs in several immigrant languages. The ethnic press is entitled to the same subsidies as the Swedish-language press. The newspaper Nerikes Allehanda sparked a row in September 2007 by publishing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad depicted as a dog. Foreign death threats were made against the paper’s cartoonist and editor, but their freedom of speech was defended by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. Separately that month, the home of a TV4 reporter, Trond Sefastsson, was raided by police and his journalistic material was confiscated following accusations of fraud and bribery for collecting money from the family of a convicted criminal to write favorable about him. In October, a court ruled that because of the seriousness of the accusations against Sefastsson, the police had the right to retain the computer containing 10 years of investigative reporting data for TV4.

Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Although the population is 87 percent Lutheran, all churches, as well as synagogues and mosques, receive some state financial support. According to the U.S. State Department, two Muslim women were awarded financial compensation in separate discrimination cases in 2007, having been denied employment for wearing headscarves. 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 without government restrictions. Trade union federations are strong and well organized, representing about 80 percent of the workforce. One of the largest demonstrations the country has ever seen occurred in October 2007, when over 12,000 people gathered to protest drug and alcohol abuse. The demonstration was prompted by the death of a 16-year-old who was murdered at a party by his intoxicated peers.

The judiciary is independent. Swedish courts are allowed to try suspects for genocide committed abroad. Swedish prisons generally meet international standards, although overcrowding and lengthy pretrial detentions sometimes occur.

The government maintains effective control of the police 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 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 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.

Sweden was ranked at the top of the Migrant Integration Policy Index in 2007. However, the country changed its immigration policy that year, disallowing family reunification for “quota refugees.” Family members will now have to apply separately for visas. After an influx of Iraqi refugees in 2006, Sweden also made it more difficult for Iraqis to seek asylum in 2007 by requiring them to cite specific threats of violence.

The state gave formal recognition to adoption by gay couples for the first time in 2003. In 2005, the country granted lesbian couples the same rights regarding artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization as heterosexual couples.

Sweden is a leader in gender equality. Some 47 percent of Riksdag members are female, and half of the 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. According to the U.S. State Department, in 2007 the government launched a $118 million four-year action plan to combat violence against women.

The country is a destination and transit point for the trafficking in persons, particularly women and children, for sexual exploitation. The 2004 Aliens Act helped to provide more assistance to trafficking victims, and a “special ambassador” has been appointed to aid in combating human trafficking.