Sweden | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)



Six nights of riots in May 2013 spread from Stockholm suburbs to several Swedish cities. The riots were initially seen as a response to a police shooting in which a mentally ill man of immigrant descent was killed after violently resisting arrest. However, the riots, concentrated in areas with large immigrant populations, came to be understood as an indication of larger social problems concerning marginalization of immigrants. They prompted a searing national debate on the future of the Swedish welfare model and economic inequality. Material damage was widespread, with more than 100 vehicles and several buildings torched and 30 police officers reported injured. There were no further riots in 2013.

In September 2013, the Dagens Nyheter newspaper exposed a registry of Roma residing in Sweden, kept by the Skåne County police and comprising well over 4,000 names, including those of children. Maintaining such a registry violates several Swedish laws as well as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 40 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

Sweden has a unicameral parliament, the Riksdag, whose 349 members are 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 ceremonial head of state.

In the September 2010 parliamentary elections, eight political parties won representation in the Riksdag. Fredrik Reinfeldt secured a second term as prime minister after his center-right Moderate Party took 107 seats. It formed a minority government with the Center Party (23 seats), the Liberal People’s Party (24 seats), and the Christian Democrats (19 seats). The Social Democratic Party (SDP), also known as the Workers’ Party, was the largest single faction with 112 seats, but remained in opposition. Two other opposition groups, the Green Party and the Left Party, took 25 and 19, respectively. The controversial far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) entered the parliament for the first time with 20 seats, though the other seven parties vowed not to rely on the SD for significant votes, leaving it politically isolated. Peaceful protests were mounted against the SD and against racism in the period surrounding the elections. Nevertheless, during 2012 and 2013 the party moved toward broader public acceptance, with slightly but steadily rising poll numbers.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16

The SDP ruled for most of the last century with the support of the Left Party and, in later decades, the Green Party, all of which are in opposition since the 2010 elections. The country’s principal religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in the 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. In April 2011, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the so-called Nordmaling case, granting Sami reindeer herders common-law rights to disputed lands; the case had been ongoing for 14 years.


C. Functioning of Government: 12 / 12

Corruption rates are generally low in Sweden, which was ranked 3 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. The country has one of the most robust freedom of information statutes in the world. However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published a critical report in June 2012, admonishing Sweden for insufficient enforcement of its foreign bribery laws.


Civil Liberties: 59 / 60 (-1)

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by law. 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 minority press is entitled to the same subsidies as the Swedish-language press. Under the 2009 Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED), internet-service providers must reveal information about users who are found to be engaged in illegal file-sharing. A ruling in 2012 by the European Court of Justice determined that IPRED followed European legislation on privacy and data protection. In 2012, Sweden adopted a data retention law after a six-year delay due to privacy concerns. The law, which puts Sweden in compliance with EU directives, requires telecommunications carriers to store data, including records on telephone calls and internet traffic, for three years.

The 2008 Signals Intelligence Act gives the National Defense Radio Establishment the authority to monitor communications without a court order. Only the military and government can request surveillance, and those who have been monitored must be notified. In 2013, Dagens Nyheter revealed that the National Defense Radio Establishment has exploited a loophole in the law to gather extensive personal telephone and internet records, the use of which remained unclear.

Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed. Although the population is 66 percent Lutheran, all churches, as well as synagogues and mosques, receive some state financial support. The Lutheran church was denationalized in 2000. Academic freedom is ensured for all.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

Freedoms of assembly and association are respected in law and practice. 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 labor code was amended in 2010 after the European Court of Justice ruled that employees at the Swedish branches of foreign companies are subject to their home country’s collective agreements, not those of Swedish unions. A nationwide bus strike in June 2013 over salary concerns and outsourcing was resolved after a nine-day walkout.


F. Rule of Law: 15 / 16 (-1)

The judiciary is independent. Swedish courts have jurisdiction to try suspects for genocide committed abroad. In 2011, Sweden sought the extradition of Julian Assange, founder of the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks, from the United Kingdom so that he could be questioned regarding rape and sexual assault allegations stemming from two incidents in Stockholm in 2010. In June 2012, Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he was granted asylum; he remained there at year’s end.

A 2013 survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found that Swedish Jews were more than twice as likely as Jews in other European countries to hide their religious affiliation, prompting concern. Malmö’s longtime mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, resigned in February 2013 under a cloud of controversy over comments that were considered anti-Semitic. While official nationwide statistics on hate crimes with anti-Semitic motives had not yet been released by year’s end, and previously showed only modest fluctuation, regional data indicated a significant increase in anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment in the southern part of Sweden. A new unit for hate crimes was formed by the Malmö police. At the national level, a permanent hate-crime police unit had been established in 2009, and an Equality Ombudsman position was created in 2008 to oversee efforts to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation.

Following intense media scrutiny of the Skåne police’s unlawful Roma registry in 2013, the politically appointed Commission on Security and Integrity Protection launched an investigation, which found significant problems regarding a lack of transparency on the list’s purpose and usage, but no proof that citizens were on the registry primarily because of their ethnicity. Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask publicly apologized, and the Skåne police department filed a complaint against itself, requesting an internal investigation led by a prosecutor that was still ongoing at year’s end.

The government announced in October 2013 that it would grant permanent residency as well as family reunification to all Syrian refugees—making Sweden the only country in Europe to do so. While Sweden’s liberal refugee policy continues to enjoy broad support, a geographically unequal distribution of refugees, coupled with a shortage of housing and jobs in the affected municipalities, has caused both public and political frustration at the local level. On the national level, the Swedish Democrats were seen as the main beneficiaries of the emerging debate on immigration.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 16 / 16

Sweden is a global leader in gender equality. Approximately 45 percent of Riksdag members are women. Of the 24 government ministers, 13 are women. About 72 percent of women work outside the home, earning the equivalent of 94 percent of men’s wages, when differences in age, sector, and experience are taken into account. Same-sex couples are legally allowed to adopt, and the country granted lesbian couples the same rights to artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization as heterosexual couples in 2005. Same-sex marriage was legalized when the parliament adopted gender-neutral legislation on marriage in 2009, the same year the Lutheran Church voted to allow same-sex ceremonies.

The country is a destination and transit point for women and children trafficked for the purpose of 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.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology