Sweden

 CountryType of Law 
 
 

Criminal Defamation

Defamation remains a criminal offence in Sweden (punishable with imprisonment).

The Swedish Criminal Code includes two related offences: defamation (Ch. 5, Sec. 1) and insult (Ch. 5, Sec. 3)

Defamation (förtal) is defined as pointing someone out as being a criminal or as having a reprehensible way of living or furnishing information intended to cause exposure to the disrespect of others. The punishment is a . Gross defamation (grovt förtal), which depends on the “content or scope of dissemination” of the statement and whether it “was calculated to bring about serious damage”, is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to two years.

Insult (förolämpning), defined as vilifying another by an insulting epithet or accusation or by other infamous conduct, is punishable by a fine, if the act is not already punishable as defamation. Gross insult can result in imprisonment for up to six months.

Insult usually involves directly insulting a person in that person’s presence. By contrast, defamation is committed when speaking about a person who is not present.

Sweden has double legislation regarding defamation and insult committed via the media. The Freedom of the Press Act (Ch. 7) and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression (Ch. 5) cover defamation and insult committed via print and audiovisual media, respectively. The offences are defined in the same way as in the Penal Code and the provisions of the Penal Code fully apply in criminal defamation cases involving the press. Furthermore, all crimes in the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression must also be a crime in the Criminal Code.

 

Criminal Defamation of Public Officials

No provisions.

 

Criminal Defamation of the Head of State

Provisions on the books.

Offence toward the monarch and the royal family (lèse-majesté) remains a criminal offence in Sweden under the Swedish Criminal Code.

Defamation or insult committed against the King or other member of the Royal Family is a criminal offence under Ch. 18, Sec. 2 of the Criminal Code. The punishment is imprisonment for up to four years, or up to six years in the case of gross defamation.

 

Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols

No provisions.

 

Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols

No provisions.

 

Criminal Defamation of the Deceased

According to Ch. 5, Sec. 5 of the Swedish Criminal Code, family members or the public prosecutor may initiate prosecutions for defamation of the deceased if it is considered to be in the public interest.

 

Criminal Blasphemy

No provisions.

 

Other Related Criminal Offences

“Ethnic agitation”

The Penal Code makes “ethnic agitation”, consisting of any statement that “threatens or expresses contempt for a national, ethnic or other such group of persons with allusion to race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religious belief or sexual orientation” punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine. A serious offence – if the statement was “particularly threatening or abusive” and disseminated in a way “likely to arouse considerable attention” – is punishable by six months to four years’ imprisonment (Ch. 16, Sec. 8).

 

Criminal Procedure

The law on criminal procedure related to defamation was amended in July 2014. It now states that while defamation is normally to be prosecuted privately by the offended party, the public prosecutor may bring charges if the offended party is under 18 years old or in other cases in which the offended party requests it and the bringing of charges is in the public interest and the offence relates to:

  • Libel or gross libel (förtal och grovt förtal);
  • Insult (förolämpning) committed against public authority;
  • Insult with reference to race, colour, national origin or ethnic or religious belief; or
  • Insult with reference to sexual orientation.

Additionally, both the Freedom of the Press Act (Ch. 12, Sec. 2) and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression (Ch. 9, Sec. 1) require that media cases “in which there is a question of liability under penal law” be conducted as a jury trial. A jury is to consist of nine members, six of whom must vote for a conviction. If the court disagrees with the jury’s verdict, it has only the option of acquitting the defendant or applying a lesser penalty.

 

Statistics on Application

The following are on criminal justice from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet – Brå) for the year 2013.

  • For defamation, there were 9 convictions resulting in 9 criminal fines.
  • For gross (aggravated) defamation, there were 12 convictions, resulting in 1 suspended prison sentence, 2 criminal fines, one sentence of probation, 2 conditional community service sentences and 6 sentences for youth offenders.
  • For insult, there were 16 convictions, resulting in 16 criminal fines.
  • There were no convictions for lèse-majesté.

 

Civil Defamation

Private actions for defamation can be brought against the media only for under the terms of the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression, Claims can be pursued even if “liability under penal law has lapsed or an action under penal law is otherwise excluded”. (FPA Ch. 11, FLFE, Ch. 8)

Damages

There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Swedish law.

According to the , defendants in tort cases can be required to pay damage to cover a loss of income (compensatory damage) or to cover “physical or psychological suffering” caused by the injury to honour (Ch. 5, Sec. 1). In deciding the amount of damages, courts may take into account aggravating factors such as whether the offending content was particularly humiliating or designed to attract public attention, as well as the defendant’s personal financial circumstances (Ch. 5, Sec. 6). Defendants may also be required to pay the costs of printing the court’s judgment in the press.

According to Swedish experts, damages in Sweden are generally low. In defamation cases, the highest awards will usually be the equivalent of €10,000 to €15,000.

Statutory defences

The same limitations and defences found in criminal law apply in civil law. The Swedish Criminal Code specifies the following defences:

Truth: If the offender “can show that the information was true or that he had reasonable grounds for it, no punishment shall be imposed” (Ch. 5 Sec. 1).

Reasonable publication: No punishment can be imposed for defamation if the offender “was duty-bound to express himself or if, considering the circumstances, the furnishing of information on the matter was defensible” (Ch. 5, Sec. 1).

 

Media Cases and Case Law

Swedish experts indicate that it is relatively unusual for persons who feel that their reputation has been injured to go to court. Offended parties are more likely to bring a complaint to the Press Ombudsman (see above) or the Swedish Broadcasting Authority, which is governed by the statutory Radio and Television Act.

Criminal prosecutions for defamation involving the media are rare in Sweden. This may be due in part to the extensive requirements for conducting such cases under the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression (see above under “Criminal procedure”). Among the few notable cases include:

Sjöberg-Persbrandt case

In December 2006, a Stockholm jury  Otto Sjöberg, then editor-in-chief of the Swedish tabloid newspaper Expressen, of committing criminal libel against Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt. A year prior, Expressen had reported that Persbrandt had been admitted to a hospital in Uppsala for alcohol poisoning. Persbrandt challenged the report as factually inaccurate and Expressen later issued an apology, admitting that it had made a mistake and explaining that it had had been misinformed by a source. The actor sued the paper for libel anyway, requesting 500,000 kronor in damages. In addition, prosecutors elected to press criminal charges against Sjöberg and Expressen.

At trial, although Sjöberg reportedly admitted to a “serious failure” that had hurt the paper’s standing, lawyers for Expressen argued that Persbrandt’s alleged struggle with alcohol was public knowledge and that the actor’s reputation could not have been damaged by the article, even if the facts regarding the clinic turned out to be untrue. The nine-member jury acquitted Sjöberg of gross libel, but found him guilty of standard libel. The Stockholm District Court sentenced him to pay 80 day fines of 1,000 kronor each (for a total of 80,000 kronor) and to pay damages to Persbrandt in the amount of 75,000 kronor.

Schyman case

In 2003, the Swedish Supreme Court (Högsta domstolen)  an appeals court judgment ordering Expressen to pay a criminal fine of 60,000 kronor for defaming Gudrun Schyman, the leader of the Swedish Left Party. However, the Supreme Court lowered the amount of damages Expressen was required to pay to Schyman, from 100,000 kronor to 50,000 kronor.

The case stemmed from a 2001 Expressen cover headline that read: “Gudrun Schyman to appear in erotic film with her ex-husband: ‘One should be horny’” (“Gudrun Schyman spelar in erotisk film tillsammans med sin ex-man: ‘Man ska bli kåt‘”). Schyman considered that the headline implied that she was involved in pornography, and sued for libel. The district court (Tingsrätt) threw out the case. The Svea Court of Appeal Svea hovrätt), however,  that readers of the headline would conclude that Schyman was to appear in a pornographic film.

 

Recent Legal Changes

The law on criminal procedure related to defamation was amended in July 2014. It now states that while defamation is normally to be prosecuted privately by the offended party, the public prosecutor may bring charges if the offended party is under 18 years old or in other cases in which the offended party requests it and the bringing of charges is in the public interest and the offence relates to:

  • Libel or gross libel (förtal och grovt förtal);
  • Insult (förolämpning) committed against public authority;
  • Insult with reference to race, colour, national origin or ethnic or religious belief; or
  • Insult with reference to sexual orientation.

 

Notes and Acknowledgements

Information on defamation laws in Europe was collected by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the School of Public Policy’s Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and their partners at the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. (Read more about our partners here.)

The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at ipi[at]freemedia.at.

Information on Sweden was last updated in January 2015.

 

The fines related to defamation are normally classified as “day fines”, according to Ch. 25, Secs. 1-2. The amount of an individual day-fine unit ranges from 30 kronor to 1,000 kronor, based partly on the offender’s economic situation, and anywhere between 30 and 150 units can be ordered as the fine.
Source: “Kriminalstatistik 2013“, Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, Rapport 2014:18.
Tort Liability Act (Skadeståndslag), 1972:207.
See Tobias Brandel, “Sjöberg döms till böter för förtal”, 15 December 2006, Svenska Dagbladet; and Claus Granath, “Juryn fäller Sjöberg för förtal”, 15 December 2006, Sydsvenskan.
Högsta domstolen, Mål nr 2003 B 1658-03.
See HD: Expressenlöpsedel om Schyman var förtal”, Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå (TT), 5 December 2003; and “Schyman vann förtalsmål”, 5 December 2003, TT and Aftonbladet.
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