Freedom in the World
Freedom in the World Scores
Sweden is a parliamentary monarchy with free and fair elections and a strong multiparty system. Civil liberties and political rights are legally guaranteed and respected in practice, and the rule of law prevails.
Key Developments in 2017:
- In April, an attacker drove a truck through central Stockholm and into a department store, killing 5 people and wounding 10 others.
- In June, the government and opposition agreed on new antiterrorism measures, which focused on tighter security in public places, greater information sharing between government agencies, and tighter controls on individuals deemed to pose a security threat.
- In May, an appeals court ruled that the Swedish state must pay 164 million krona ($18.6 million) in compensation to roughly 4,700 Roma people who had been improperly added to a police registry on the basis of their ethnicity.
- Several anti-Semitic incidents took place in late 2017, including a Molotov cocktail attack on a synagogue in Gothenburg.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 40 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 12 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
The prime minister is the head of government, and is appointed by the speaker of the freely elected parliament, or Riksdag, and confirmed by the body as a whole. King Carl XVI Gustaf, crowned in 1973, is the ceremonial head of state.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
The unicameral Riksdag is comprised of 349 members who are elected every four years by proportional representation. A party must receive at least 4 percent of the vote nationwide or 12 percent in an electoral district to win representation. Swedish elections are broadly free and fair.
In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the Social Democratic Party (SAP) won 113 seats, and SAP leader Stefan Löfven became prime minister in a minority government with the Green Party, which won 25 seats.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4 / 4
Elections are regulated by the Swedish Election Authority, which effectively upholds its mandates. Monitors from the Swedish International Liberal Center observing the 2014 polls called on the Swedish Election Authority provide more information about elections to election observers.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 16 / 16
B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4
Political parties may form and operate without restriction. Eight political parties gained representation in the Riksdag in 2014, with the SAP, the Moderates, and the Sweden Democrats holding the most seats.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4
Sweden has a strong multiparty system with a robust opposition.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 4 / 4
People’s political choices are generally free from domination by actors that are not democratically accountable.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4
The country’s principal religious, ethnic, and immigrant groups are represented in the parliament, as are many women. Since 1993, the indigenous Sami community has elected its own legislature, which has significant powers over community education and culture, and serves as an advisory body to the government.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 12 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4
Sweden’s freely elected representatives are able to effectively develop and implement policy.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 4 / 4
Corruption is relatively low in Sweden. Anticorruption mechanisms are generally effective. The country’s lively free press also works to expose corrupt officials. However, Sweden has faced some criticism for insufficient enforcement of foreign bribery laws.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 4 / 4
The country has one of the most robust freedom of information statutes in the world, and state authorities generally respect the right of both citizens and noncitizens to access public information.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 60 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 16 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 4 / 4
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 minority languages.
In December 2017, Utgivarna, an interest group representing the major Swedish media publishers, reported that threats against journalists had increased from the previous year. The group noted that threats typically come from parties dissatisfied with a story, followed by apparent members of extremist or criminal groups. Utgivarna asserted that threats against journalists tend not to result in compromised independence or self-censorship.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected. State authorities document religion-based hate crimes, investigate and prosecute cases, and provide adequate resources for victims. The police force includes a permanent unit trained to handle hate crimes.
Data released in December 2017 by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention showed that hate crimes had decreased in 2016 compared to the previous year. Most hate crimes that were reported, though, were related to religion. Several anti-Semitic incidents took place in late 2017, including a Molotov cocktail attack on a synagogue in Gothenburg. Three people were arrested in connection with the incident.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4
Academic freedom is generally respected.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4
Private discussion is open and vibrant.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 12 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4
Freedom of assembly is generally respected in law and in practice. However, violence has erupted between far-right demonstrators and counterprotesters.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4
Nongovernmental organizations of all kinds function freely.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4
The rights to strike and organize in labor unions are guaranteed. Trade union federations, which represent approximately 70 percent of the workforce, are strong and well organized.
F. RULE OF LAW: 16 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4
The judiciary is independent.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4 / 4
The rule of law prevails in civil and criminal matters. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the state must provide legal counsel to people accused of criminal offenses.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 4 / 4
In April 2017, an attacker drove a truck through central Stockholm and into a department store, killing 5 people and wounding 10 others. The suspect, an Uzbek citizen whom Swedish officials had once flagged as posing a possible security threat, had seen his residency application rejected in 2016, and had subsequently gone underground in order to avoid deportation. Uzbek officials claimed that he had links to the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
The attack sparked debate in Sweden over intelligence gathering and migration policy. In June, the government and opposition agreed on new antiterrorism measures, which focused on tighter security in public places, greater information sharing between government agencies, and tighter controls on individuals deemed to pose a security threat.
Conditions in prisons and temporary detention facilities are adequate, but concerns have been raised against excessive use of long detention periods. Changes to the law regarding detention have been proposed in the Swedish parliament. Swedish courts have jurisdiction to try suspects for genocide committed abroad.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 4 / 4
The Swedish state works to ensure equal protection and rights for all members of the population. An equality ombudsman oversees efforts to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation. However, the UN has called for the ombudsman’s powers to be strengthening, and has noted problems with discrimination by police and correctional personnel.
In June 2016 the Swedish state was found guilty of ethnic discrimination against 11 Roma people who appeared in a police registry only because of their ethnic identity. The state’s appeal of the case failed and in May 2017, it was ordered to pay 164 million krona ($18.6 million) in compensation to the roughly 4,700 people on the registry.
In May 2017, in the wake of growing right-wing sentiment and increasing immigration from abroad, the Swedish government voted to place limits on parental leave benefits for immigrants.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 16 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4
Freedom of movement is legally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. However, asylum seekers may be assigned to a place of residence, and at times may be forced to change locations. In September 2017, the European Union (EU) ordered Sweden to eliminate checkpoints on its external borders that were instituted during the 2015 refugee crisis.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4 / 4
The government respects the rights of individuals to own property and establish private businesses. A 2011 Supreme Court ruling granted Sami reindeer herders common-law rights to disputed lands.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 4 / 4
Same-sex couples are legally allowed to marry and adopt; lesbian couples have the same rights to artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization as heterosexual couples. The Lutheran Church allows same-sex marriage ceremonies.
The United Nations has criticized Sweden for not doing enough to prevent domestic violence against women and children.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 4 / 4
People in Sweden generally enjoy equality of opportunity. Women earn the equivalent of 95.5 percent of men’s wages when differences in age, sector, and experience are taken into account. However, unemployment is higher among immigrants than it is among people who were born in Sweden.
Sweden is a destination and, to a lesser extent, a transit point for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, but the Swedish government is proactive in combatting the problem. Nevertheless, the United Nations has pointed out that Sweden lacks robust methods to prevent individuals, especially unaccompanied immigrant children, from falling victim to human trafficking.