Sweden | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2010

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The controversial 2008 wiretapping law continued to cause political turmoil in 2009, leading to the adoption of a revised version in October. Demonstrations during the year over a range of issues resulted in several arrests, as well as an attack on the Iranian Embassy in Stockholm.

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 the 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.          
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. High unemployment was a major issue in the elections.
Parliament passed the Signals Intelligence Act in June 2008, giving Sweden’s National Defense Radio Establishment the authority to tap international phone calls, e-mails, and faxes without a court order. Following widespread public protest, the law was changed in September to allow wire-tapping only in cases where external military threats were suspected and called for the creation of a special court to monitor the eavesdropping. The law went into effect January 1, 2009 amid continued protest, including the resignation of the head of the Swedish Intelligence Commission in February. The Riksdag narrowly passed an amended version of the bill in October, specifying that only the government and military can request surveillance, communication sent and received inside Sweden are exempt from surveillance, raw materials must be destroyed after one year, and those who have been monitored must be notified.
In March 2009, four men who ran the file-sharing website, Pirate Bay, were sentenced to one year in prison for violating copyright law, and faced a fine of $3.5 million for damages caused by their site. An appeal was rejected in June. Following their convictions, 25,000 people joined the Pirate Party, a political party that supports open online exchange. The Pirate Party won two seats in the European Parliamentary elections in June. Sweden held the EU Presidency from July to December 2009.
In April, information emerged that the government knew Swedish airports were used in 2005 as a stopping point for clandestine CIA planes flying terror suspects out of the United States. The government had previously denied such knowledge in 2006.

A series of protests in 2009 led to several arrests. The most severe occurred in June when nearly 100 demonstrators protesting the reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stormed the Iranian Embassy in Stockholm and attacked an embassy worker.

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 1 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 3 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index. According to the U.S. State Department’s human rights report, there were 23 prosecutions in corruption cases during the year. In August 2009, it came to light that sensitive police information on violent criminals was being sold and circulated among Sweden’s criminal underground. After an investigation, the Stockholm police department claimed that the documents had not been leaked by their unit, but argued instead that the data had been accessed by computer. Also in August, Minister Gunilla Carlsson called for investigations into international aid management after a corruption scandal broke involving aid money to Zambia. Approximately $7 million in Swedish aid to the Health Ministry had disappeared.  
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. In April 2009, the Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED) law went into effect, which will force internet service providers (ISPs) to reveal information about users and facilitate the conviction of those engaged in illegal file sharing. The Left and Green parties opposed the law, as well as groups that support file-sharing websites like Pirate Bay.
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. In 2009, over 200 hate crimes were reported against Muslims. Several lawsuits ruled in favor of Muslims who had faced discrimination throughout the year. Anti-Israel protests in January led to an increase in anti-Semitic incidents as well. The Jewish community reported an increase in Nazi symbols, personal threats, and isolated attacks on the Jewish cemetery. Academic freedom is ensured for all.
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected in law and in practice. Protests in 2009 on a range of issues led to several arrests, including the demonstrations in January against the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip and protests against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection in June. The rights to strike and organize in labor unions are guaranteed. Trade union federations, which represent about 80 percent of the workforce, are strong and well organized.
The judiciary is independent. Swedish courts are allowed to try suspects for genocide committed abroad. The government maintains effective control of the police and armed forces. However, an investigation revealed in October 2009 that Johan Liljeqvist had been suffocated to death by police officers after kicking a car at a rally in Gothenburg in April 2008. The Council of Europe’s anti-torture body criticized Sweden in August 2009 for its treatment of prisoners, who are often kept in solitary confinement for inhumane lengths of time, among other violations.
Sweden was ranked at the top of the 2007 Migrant Integration Policy Index.However, the country changed its immigration policy that year, disallowing family reunification for “quota refugees.” Family members must now apply separately for visas. A new Equality Ombudsman position was created in July 2008 to oversee efforts to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation, and in April 2009, a permanent national hate crime police unit was established. In November, a stream of demonstrations and counterdemonstrations were sparked after a youth hostel in Vellinge was turned into temporary housing for children seeking asylum. In protest, a fire was deliberately set outside the hostel on November 22. The government subsequently began talks about legislation that would force municipalities to house young asylum seekers. The law was still under discussion at the end of 2009.
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 global leader in gender equality. Some 47 percent of Riksdag members are female, and half of government ministers are women. Although 80 percent of women work outside of the home, they still earn only 70 percent of men’s wages in the public sector and 76 percent in the private sector. The country is a destination and transit point for trafficking in 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.