Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Sweden is a member of the EU and the UN but has declined NATO membership. The country has a social welfare system providing education and health care to all its citizens and ranks very highly on the UN Human Development Report 2014.

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom or religion or belief, as well as the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.

The Church of Sweden ceased to be the established state church in 2000, and Sweden is a highly secular country (a Eurobarometer Poll in 2010 found just 18% of Swedish citizens agreed to the proposition “there is a god”).

However, the state collects a “church tax” from citizens who are listed as belonging to a religious group which is then distributed back to the religious bodies. Non-religious citizens do not have to pay the church tax, but non-religious Swedes have consistently been refused the right to designate their Humanist Association to take part in the same system.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by law and respected in practice. Chapter 16 Section 8 of the penal code criminalizes “A person who, in a disseminated statement or communication, threatens or expresses contempt for a national, ethnic or other such group of persons with allusion to race, colour, national or ethnic origin or religious belief”. Analysis suggests that only incitement-to-hatred-type violations would be considered contempt for “religious belief” and therefore this does not constitute a ‘blasphemy’-type law.

Highlighted cases

In 2011, Pakistani refugee Khalid Saeed and his family were denied asylum in Sweden, despite verifiable evidence of him being a well-known, outspoken ex-Muslim already exposed to threats, abuse and a significant risk of prosecution by the Pakistani state under Islamic judiciary, and of potential persecution by extremist groups.

The Bangladeshi blogger Ananta Bijoy Das, shortly before he was killed in Bangladesh in 2015, had applied for a visa to travel to Sweden at the invitation of Swedish PEN (International PEN and its national branches regularly work with writers at genuine risk of persecution). However, Sweden rejected his application, on the grounds that he was unmarried and not wealthy and therefore could not be considered sufficiently “established” in Bangladesh such taht he might fail to return. He was killed within weeks. The decision was severely and widely criticised.

The position of the Swedish Humanist Association, Humanisterna, is that these and later cases may suggest that the Swedish migration authority (Migrationsverket) may have considered the non-religious as less exposed to risk of oppression than religious minorities in a similar situation; and that asylum should be granted to atheists from countries where atheism or apostasy is criminalised, or if the authorities in the country of origin fail to defend people’s right to freedom of belief. Furthermore, asylum should be granted on equal grounds, e.g. an ex-Muslim apostate may have equal or higher need for protection compared to religious minorities.

However, in the months after the Ananta Bijoy Das killing and the publicity around his rejected visa application, Sweden has granted visas to at least five verified secular at risk on a number of other programmes as of December 2015.