Freedom of Expression Offences

Freedom of Expression Offences in Europe

The freedom of expression and information is a fundamental element in the principles of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.

Freedom of Expression Offences in Sweden

In the Swedish Constitution: The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression (SFS nr: 1991:1469)

In addition to the Instrument of Government, Sweden has three fundamental laws (Sveriges Grundlagar): the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act, and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression, which covers Freedom of Expression Offences and other topics. The Riksdag Act occupies an intermediate position between a fundamental law and ordinary law. The four fundamental lwas formed the Constitution of Sweden.

The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression was adopted in 1991 and is Swedens youngest fundamental law. Like the Freedom of the Press Act, it contains provisions on free dissemination of information and prohibits censorship. It covers old and new media, such as radio, TV, films and CD-ROM discs.

Fundamental laws are more difficult to amend than other laws. They may only be amended or abolished if two Riksdags have adopted identically formulated decisions, with an election intervening. No other laws or ordinances may conflict with the fundamental laws.

Chapter 5 of the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression has the heading “On Freedom of Expression Offences”. Here are the content of Chapter 5:

  • Article 1 provides the following: The acts listed as freedom of the press offences in Chapter 7, Articles 4 and 5 of the Freedom of the Press Act shall be regarded as freedom of expression offences if they are committed in a radio programme or technical recording and are punishable under law. Under the same conditions, unlawful portrayal of violence whereby a person intrusively or protractedly portrays in moving pictures gross acts of violence against persons or animals, with intent to disseminate the item, shall also be regarded as a freedom of expression offence unless the act is justifiable having regard to the circumstances.
  • Article 2 provides the following: Acts which under Chapter 7, Article 2 of the Freedom of the Press Act shall not be regarded as freedom of the press offences because they are com-mitted by means of communications in which the offence is concealed, shall not be regarded as freedom of expression offences either.
  • Article 3 provides the following: If a person communicates information under Chapter 1, Article 2, or, without being liable under Chapter 6, contributes to an item intended for publication in a radio programme or technical recording, either as an author or other originator, or by taking part in the radio programme, and thereby renders himself guilty of 1. high treason, espionage, gross espionage, gross unauthorised trafficking in secret information, insurrection, treason or betrayal of country, or any attempt, preparation or conspiracy to commit such an offence; 2. wrongful release of an official document to which the public does not have access, or release of such a document in contravention of a restriction imposed by a public authority at the time of its release, where the act is deliberate; or 3. deliberate disregard of a duty of confidentiality in the cases specified in a special act of law; provisions of law concerning liability for such an offence apply. If a person procures information or intelligence for a purpose referred to in Chapter 1, Article 2, and thereby renders himself guilty of an offence under paragraph one, point 1, provisions of law concerning liability for such an offence apply. The provisions of Chapter 2, Article 12, paragraph three of the Instrument of Government concerning special legislative procedures shall apply also to proposals for provisions under paragraph one, point 3.
  • Article 4 provides the following: Provisions of law concerning penal sanctions on account of offences under Article 1 shall apply also when the offence is to be regarded as a freedom of expression offence. Rules are set out in Chapter 8 concerning damages on account of freedom of expression offences. When a person is convicted of defamation or using insulting language or behaviour under Article 1, paragraph one, the court may rule, on a petition by the other party, that, if the offence was committed in a radio programme, the verdict of the court shall be reproduced in full or in part in a radio programme transmitted by the same broadcasting service. The court may decide that the obligation to reproduce the verdict shall relate to a summary prepared by the court.
  • Article 5 provides the following: In determining penal sanctions on account of a freedom of expression offence, the court shall pay particular attention to whether a correction has been published. (see more about the Constitution of Sweden here)
  • Article 6 provides the following: A technical recording which contains a freedom of expression offence may be confiscated. If the offence is unlawful portrayal of violence, provisions of law concerning special legal effects in other respects shall apply. In the event of confiscation, all copies intended for dissemination shall be destroyed. It shall further be ensured that material capable of being used specifically to duplicate the technical recording concerned cannot be used to make further copies.

Other Chapters of the Law are:

  • Chapter 1. Basic provisions
  • Chapter 2. On the right to anonymity
  • Chapter 3. On transmission, production and dissemination
  • Chapter 4. On responsible editors
  • Chapter 6. Liability rules
  • Chapter 7. On supervision, prosecution and special coercive measures
  • Chapter 8. On damages
  • Chapter 9. On court proceedings in freedom of expression cases
  • Chapter 10. On radio programmes and technical recordings emanating from abroad etc.
  • Chapter 11. General provisions

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