There's an article titled Sweden passes law to criminalize any criticism of immigration which says,

A new law will come into effect in Sweden after Christmas 2014, that will allow people to be prosecuted for criticizing immigration or politician’s unwillingness to tackle the issue.

While this is not the only source claiming that, I feel that the reality is a bit more complex than the version presented by media. The claim that one of the most developed of european countries would abolish freedom of speech seems very unrealistic.

Is the article blowing the issue out of proportion?

  • 10
    Germany completely forbids any speech connected to Nazism. Leaving aside the justification for that, your assertion that "one of the most developed of european countries would abolish freedom of speech seems very unrealistic" seems wrong - it's not only "realistic" but based on existing precedent. If you go beyond Europe, you have Canada and its cangaroo courts convicting people of "hate speech" for daring to disagree with PC positions (see this piece by Glenn Greenwald, not quite known for far right views)
    – user5341
    Nov 24, 2014 at 18:06
  • 8
    With the same logic, one could also claim that free speech has already been abolished in the USA due to the restrictions on tobacco advertisement. Nov 24, 2014 at 18:47
  • 18
    @DVK: your claim about Germany is, of course, complete bullshit. You can talk about Nazism all day long as long as you do not condone, glorify or justify it. Nov 26, 2014 at 11:26
  • 9
    In Germany, it is not even forbidden to glorify nazism per se, but under certain circumstances to downplay or condone the war crimes performed during the reign or to justify or glorify the violent, arbitrary rule of the German Nazi Party (German penal code, § 130). Nov 26, 2014 at 20:03
  • 2
    In Canada criminal "hate speech" means speech which advocates genocide or attempts to incite hatred. The section in the Canadian Human Rights Acts (i.e. section 13) was repealed in 2013 so, now in Canada there can only be public/criminal prosecutions, not privately-initiated actions.
    – ChrisW
    Nov 28, 2014 at 0:54

2 Answers 2


As ChrisW already pointed out, both the disposition from the "Committee on the Constitution" (including some background information and reasoning behind the law changes) and the changes and amendments themselves can be found here in Swedish. Since the changes and amendments are embedded as images instead of printable text, it is not possible to run these through a translator.

The changes are in fact not very substantial. Most modifications are just a modernization of the language, there are some clarifications to existing regulations and then perhaps two modifications, which have obviously been picked up by the right wing press and liberally interpreted. Without making any changes to what is actually forbidden, the amendments of the law opens up for the public prosecutor under more liberal limitations than before, to press charges without involvement of the insulted person or persons and it opens up for a possibility for allegedly insulted persons to try their case in court without the risk of having to pay the opponent's costs.

I am not a lawyer and it is difficult to provide a proper translation of the legalese text of the law, but I'll try to explain the modifications here:

Modifications to the law on freedom of press

Chapter 1, § 6: Clarification, that a printed matter is not considered to be for publication in Sweden, just because it is sent from Sweden to intended recipients abroad.

Chapter 1, § 9: Amendment that recipients of credit and solvency status reports must have a justified requirement for such information.

Chapter 10 and 13: Only modernization of the language.

Modifications to the law on freedom of speech

Chapter 1, § 10: Clarification, that a technical recording is not considered to be published or broadcast in Sweden, just because it is sent from Sweden to intended recipients abroad.

Chapter 10, § 2: Without context, it is not obviously clear what the modifications refers to, but it is yet another clarification regarding statements made outside Sweden but intended for recipients within Sweden and vice versa.

Modifications to the penal code

Chapter 5, § 5: In this paragraph, it is regulated in which cases the public prosecutor is allowed to initiate criminal proceedings without any charge or report from the recipient(s) of the alleged insults. The modification is that the "special circumstances" required in the old law text are removed.

Old text: "... the public prosecutor is allowed to initiate criminal proceedings under special circumstances, if this seem required from a public point of view ..."

New text: "... the public prosecutor is allowed to initiate criminal proceedings, if this seem required from a public point of view ..."

Modifications to regulations concerning freedom of press and freedom of speech

Chapter 10, § 4: The amendment opens up for the court to decide that the losing party must only cover their own costs if it is in the public interest to prove the case in a court.

  • 4
    For context, Wikileaks used to claim Swedish press protections because of having Swedish servers. This law makes clear that's not enough.
    – Christian
    Nov 28, 2014 at 8:12
  • @Christian What exactly are you thinking about? Nov 28, 2014 at 11:59
  • "Since the changes and amendments are embedded as images instead of printable text, it is not possible to run these through a translator." - "not possible" is a somewhat strong claim there, even if we disregard OCR. Nov 28, 2014 at 14:19
  • @Tor-Einar Jarnbjo: Swedish freedom of press laws include provision that investigators face criminal penalties for spying on journalist-source communications. It was at the time the only country. Wikileaks made the choice to use Swedish servers to benefit from that provision. Noteable without having a Swedish postal address and thus be attackable via the old Swedish anti-defamation laws. The point of the provisions is to make it clear that this isn't possible. See wikileaks.org/wiki/…
    – Christian
    Nov 28, 2014 at 14:45

Will criticizing immigration be illegal in Sweden?

I believe not, that simply criticizing immigration will not be illegal:

  • Because see What about 'free speech'? below.
  • Because I don't see (in the described change to the law) such a big change to the law.

  • Because for example the Sweden Democrats party have and will presumably continue to communicate their anti-immigration policy. They are legal and hold 14% of the seats in parliament:

    The Sweden Democrats or Swedish Democrats (Swedish: Sverigedemokraterna, SD) are a far-right,[13][14][21][22] right-wing populist,[5][10] and anti-immigration[23][24][25][26] political party in Sweden that was founded in 1988.[27]

    The Sweden Democrats continued this success in the 2014 general election, polling 12.9% and winning 49 (14% of) seats in parliament.[18] The party remains isolated and excluded from influence by all other parties in the Riksdag.[33]

    The Sweden Democrats believe that the current Swedish immigration and integration policies have been a failure.[68][69] SD is the only party in the Swedish Parliament without an integration policy.[70][71] They oppose integration because etc.

  • Because the committee says that they aren't changing law about what's "free" versus "illegal" speech, they're only changing law to allow increased opportunity or public prosecution.

Summary of changes to the existing laws

The following is what was said in (or by, or to) Swedish Parliament about the "new law":

  • Previous/already-existing laws:

    • In Sweden there are (i.e. there have been and there remain) some insults which you are not allowed to say about a person, in person and in public

    • The victim of such an insult can (privately) initiate a court action (I think a "civil court" action)

    • The public prosecutor can choose to initiate court action (i.e., I think, "criminal court" action) in "special circumstances"

  • These new changes amend the existing laws, in the following ways:

    • According to the Committee it slightly allows more intervention by public authorities against slander and insults on the internet (I'm not sure how; perhaps that's the changes to the law about speech which crosses the Swedish national border on the internet, or perhaps it's the change from prosecutors doing it in "special circumstances" to their doing it when it's in the "public interest"

    • Previously the public prosecutor could intervene only in "special circumstances" (which might I think mean, for example, when there's "insult to anyone with allusion to his or her race etc."). Now instead of there needing to be that "special circumstance" the public prosecutor can initiate action if it's in the "public interest")

    • The public prosecutor will be especially likely to do that if the victim is a minor
    • When a private person brings an action and loses, they no longer need to pay the opposing/defending party's costs, if there was a "particular reason" for the trial.

(I introduce some references as evidence and quote from them, below. The quoted text is auto-translated from the Swedish using Google Translate. Some of it has been edited by Swedes as mentioned in comments below.)

Cited references to these details

The news article which is referenced/questioned in the OP says,

Member of Parliament Andrew Norlén, member of the Constitutional Committee, has been pushing the issue and he says it will rapidly become a deterrent.

“I do not think it takes very many prosecutions before a signal is transmitted in the community that the internet is not a lawless country, the sheriff is back in town” Norlén said during a one-sided ‘debate’ on the issue in Swedish parliament.

Therefore that news article is referring to the following law, which Andreas Norlén introduced to Parliament in the following brief speech, which I quote below as follows in its entirety.

9 § Some changes in pressure press and the freedom of expression
Constitutional committee's report 2013/14: KU17
Some changes in pressure and the freedom of expression (Prop. 2013/14: 47)
was preferred.
Anf. 13 Andreas Norlén (M):

Mr President We in the constitutional committee is unanimous on this report, which deals with some changes in pressure and the freedom of expression. It contains proposals for constitutional amendments and some other important legislative changes. There is therefore reason to say anything about it in this House, although we totally agree.

I have a particular interest in the issue because I was a member of the Freedom of Expression Committee, therefore, the government report which presented the investigation report, which forms the basis of the proposals we are now debating.

The aim of the key proposals which this report is to some extent adapting Swedish legislation to the development of society that has meant that the number of defamation offenses has increased exponentially in our country in recent years.

The concept of defamation offenses sounds a bit archaic. It has an archaic ring to it, but it involves conduct which constitutes a painful reality for thousands of people in our country, not least for many young people. I am thinking primarily on the gross violations that every day affects many people on the internet in the form of insults, slander, insult, and everything whatever it may be.

The development of the Internet has led to the tremendous opportunities in terms of communication and new services. It has changed our world for the better, but it has also brought unprecedented opportunities for violations of other people - violations that may very common and which often causes a lot of great suffering.

A starting point in Swedish law is that the criminal libel, slander and insult, it is the plaintiff - that the victims of the crime - to prosecute. This will still be the starting point even after the legislative changes we are proposing, but it introduces some modifications.

It is quite obvious that the step for the person being insulted and attacked on the Internet - even if there are serious violations - to bring a private prosecution against the person who made these observations are often very long. The vast majority of violations goes obeivrade past.

Then, the problem is that respect for the rule of law and the rules that are against slander and insult risk of erosion. The Internet is not a lawless country. It applies the same rules and regulations about how we should behave towards each other when we act on the internet that when we act in the real world and not moving in the virtual reality. Slander and also insult is just as illegal on the internet as it is when you meet on the square. With these amendments, we give public prosecutor little more opportunity to intervene and criminal action rather than submit to the individual to make their case and bring private prosecutions. To the public prosecutor to initiate legal prosecution for defamation or insult, it has clean lagtekniskt hitherto required to for specific reasons warranted in the public interest. Now changed this so that the requirement for special reasons deleted. Suffice it to say that it should be warranted in the public interest. It involves some extension of the general prosecution law.

What could it be about? What could it be for societal interests that are evident? Yes, that's if it's particularly serious violations or violations may be particularly large spread, for example, that they take place via the internet. But it can also be in the interests of the individual, that is, the individual objective has been very hard hit by deeds. There may also be a reason for criminal action.

The government also claims in the bill that the fact that a young person is affected may be another reason for the public prosecutor must intervene.

This is great changes. They make it a little better opportunities for public prosecutors and police to intervene. I do not think that it requires very few prosecutions before sending a signal to the community that the internet is not a lawless country - the sheriff is back in town, if you want to put it a little slängigt. I hope that police and prosecutors are using the new opportunities and ensure the prosecution of a number of criminal defamation on the Internet, in a way that makes respect for the rule of law can be strengthened.

With that, Mr President, I call assent to the proposal in the report.

There's also a description of these to the law, in the following Constitutional Committee report on the Swedish Parliament web site, from which I quote a few paragraphs below.

Report 2013/14: KU17 Some changes in freedom of press and speech

The bill also proposed giving individuals a stronger procedural position of libel and increased protection for privacy. The Government proposes that the requirement in the Criminal Code on the specific reasons for the criminal action for defamation and insult is removed. This means that the prosecuting attorney and the attorney general will increasingly be able to assist individuals such as has been slandered on the internet.

The government also makes proposals which implies that the plaintiff should be able to avoid paying the opposite party in a pressure or freedom of expression when the plaintiff's action was dismissed but he or she has had particular reason to be tried.

The following is a description of the current law:

When it comes to prosecution for slander, coarse slander and insult are special provisions in Chapter 5. § 5, first paragraph Criminal Code. Under this provision, these crimes are not prosecuted by someone other than the plaintiff. In the case of defamation, rough defamation or certain types of insult - such as insult to anyone with allusion to his or her race, color, national or ethnic origin or religious belief - and the offense is against someone under eighteen years, or if otherwise the plaintiff states the offense, may prosecutor to prosecute if there for specific reasons deemed necessary in the public interest.

The new law is,

If a defamation crimes directed against someone who is under eighteen years of age or if the injured party in another case indicates the offense, the prosecutor would receive a prosecution if this is called the public interest and other conditions for prosecution are met. The Government's proposal means that the requirement for a special reason to prosecute these cases to be removed.

As reasons for the proposal, the Government states that, in particular Internet enabled a very large and rapid dissemination of information. The information is easily searchable and often remain on the internet for a long time. This is according to the government, of course, generally positive from the Freedom of Expression and Democracy perspective, but not when it concerns criminal messages such as slander. It can be assumed that the large and rapid spread, along with the fact that the data remains on the internet and are searchable for a long time, results in a different and more difficult consequences for those who consider themselves vilified than other more traditional publications. It has also recently been recognized that the climate in various discussion forums are hard and that many, especially young people, "hung out" on the web in a way that can affect them significantly.

Especially in the light of these developments, the Government considers, like the Committee, that there is reason to strengthen individuals' procedural protection when exposed to defamation or insult by the general somewhat greater extent than at present responsible for defamation offenses prosecuted criminally. Freedom of expression suggests that it should be done by the possibility of criminal proceedings for defamation and insult expanded. The Government agrees with the Committee's proposal. A slight extension of the possibility of public prosecutions allow inter alia something more intervention by public authorities against slander and insults on the internet. Such crimes are most common on websites that are not covered by the Freedom of Speech. The Committee, however, the changes apply not only to those sites but also on the constitutionally protected area and for slander and insults that take other forms.

Some of the respondents remarked that the proposal is likely to cause a greater caution in the media because of the increased risk of public prosecution and thus have a negative impact on freedom of expression. The Government believes that the media's concerns are based on the assumption that the public prosecution will be brought in more cases than before, which may lead to more convictions. Hence, the media is affected when making a decision about publishing or not. The Government considers that this concern should not be exaggerated. There is no question of an extension of the criminal area, but it is only about an increased opportunity for public prosecution. In this context it should also be noted that JK shall observe the so-called instruction, which according to the government means that one must assume that the JK will not intervene in cases other than when it is really justified.

What about 'free speech'?

The OP/question says, "The claim that one of the most developed of european countries would abolish freedom of speech seems very unrealistic", but I think that "freedom of speech" (as that is 'commonly understood') is a peculiar and mostly-American law (e.g. because of the First Amendment there). Many other countries including Sweden have laws against 'hate speech':

Sweden prohibits hate speech, and defines it as publicly making statements that threaten or express disrespect for an ethnic group or similar group regarding their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith, or sexual orientation.[58][59] The crime does not prohibit a pertinent and responsible debate (en saklig och vederhäftig diskussion), nor statements made in a completely private sphere.[60] There are constitutional restrictions pertaining to which acts are criminalized, as well limits set by the European Convention on Human Rights.[61] The crime is called Hets mot folkgrupp in Swedish which directly translated can be translated to Incitement (of hatred/violence) towards population groups.

I personally find it regrettable that "freedom of speech" is interpreted as "freedom to hate on people" (but who am I to criticize). It's currently easy to find web sites which appear to hate on immigrants to Sweden.

Sweden also has existing laws against 'defamation' (which I won't quote here: there are several of them).

What about 'democracy'?

Wikipedia says (I repeat),

The crime does not prohibit a pertinent and responsible debate (en saklig och vederhäftig diskussion), nor statements made in a completely private sphere.

So I suppose that a statement like the following from the article referenced in the OP,

Without freedom of speech there can be no democracy. If you are not allowed to say certain things then parties that support your ideas cannot exist and Sweden is at high risk of turning into a communist USSR-like country.

... is not necessarily true.

I say "not necessarily true" because other countries manage to have hate-speech laws, without being called "a communist USSR-like country" (except perhaps by the odd American: "Soviet Canuckistan").

Germany has a (legal) political party that's anti-immigration, notwithstanding also having anti-Nazi laws.


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