Freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate in Sweden
In Sweden, freedom of expression and demonstration are protected by the Constitution. Freedom of expression is one of the foundations of the Swedish state. Freedom of expression, freedom of information, freedom to demonstrate and freedom of assembly are therefore central rights in our democracy. The individual’s right to freedom of religion is also strongly protected by the Constitution.
Freedom of expression in Sweden
The constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression includes the right to express thoughts, opinions and feelings through speech, writing or images without interference by the authorities. This freedom can only be restricted if it is necessary for the fulfilment of certain purposes specifically set out in the Constitution, and a restriction may never go beyond what is necessary to fulfil these purposes. Freedom of expression in certain media, such as newspapers, radio and television, enjoys particularly strong constitutional protection. Penalties for violations of freedom of the press and freedom of expression concerning messages conveyed through such media are directly regulated by the Constitution.
In Sweden, freedom of expression entails a very far-reaching right for individuals to express thoughts and ideas on any subject. However, it does not mean the freedom to always say practically anything at all. For example, this freedom does not extend to slander or committing an act involving threats or agitation against a national or ethnic group. On the other hand, religions as such are not protected against expressions of opinion that challenge religious messages or that may be perceived as hurtful to believers.
Freedom to demonstrate in Sweden
The freedom of demonstration is strongly protected by the Swedish Constitution and includes the freedom to organise and participate in demonstrations in public places. The Swedish Police Authority is tasked with ensuring that public gatherings can be held.
Under Chapter 2, Section 10 of the Public Order Act (1993:1617), the Swedish Police Authority may only refuse to issue a permit for a public gathering if it is necessary to do so with respect to public order or safety at the gathering or, as a direct consequence of the gathering, in its immediate surroundings. There must be very strong reasons to refuse to issue a permit to hold a public gathering on grounds of public order. One basis for refusing a permit is that other means of preventing impediments to the gathering have been exhausted.
Therefore, if it is deemed that there is a risk of disorder at the gathering, the Police Authority may, in the first instance, impose the conditions necessary to maintain public order and safety at the gathering. Such conditions may, for example, relate to the place and time of the gathering. Areas can also be blocked off during a demonstration, and crowds can be instructed to follow a specific path.
The fact that an organisation or a person conveys a message that may be perceived as a threat towards other groups does not mean that a demonstration permit may be denied on grounds of public order and safety at the gathering. The content of such messages is instead handled with the support of other regulations, such as the provision on agitation against a national or ethnic group.
A person is guilty of agitation against a national or ethnic group if they in a statement or other communication that is disseminated threaten or express contempt for a population group by allusion to national or ethnic origin or religious beliefs, for example. Criminal liability for agitation against a national or ethnic group does not entail a prohibition against criticism of religion.