Demonstrations – questions and answers

Everyone in Sweden has constitutional rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of demonstration.

This means that everyone has the right to express their opinions and participate in public gatherings, such as demonstrations.

Who is allowed to demonstrate?

Everybody in Sweden has constitutional rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to demonstrate. This means that everyone has the right to express their opinions and participate in public gatherings. Everyone also has the right to organize and participate in demonstrations in public places.

Freedom of expression does not give immunity from criminal liability if a crime is committed when expressing an opinion, for example agitation against a population group or unlawful threats.

Is a demonstration permit necessary?

Yes, as a general rule, a permit is necessary for a demonstration in a public place. For places that are located in land-use zones, a notification must be provided.

When processing the permit, the Police can facilitate the demonstration by agreeing on rules and setting the time and place of the event. This helps to reduce the risk of public disturbances or the risk of the demonstration clashing with other demonstrations or events.

If I have a permit to demonstrate, does what I do under it count as legal?

As a general rule, the organizer of a public gathering can choose the time and place. The Police’s duty is to prevent disturbances, for example attacks from counter-demonstrations, which can be done by using police cordons, for example. 

However, the Police can also decide to change the time and place of the gathering in order to maintain order and security. In this way the organizer can carry out the demonstration and the risk of serious public disturbances can be avoided or minimised.

If I have a permit to demonstrate, does what I do during the demonstration count

No. Regardless of whether or not you have a permit for your public gathering, you must observe the restrictions placed on freedom of expression by Swedish legislation. The decision to grant you a permit to hold a public gathering simply means that the Police does not consider there to be any obstacles to holding the gathering from a public order and safety perspective. 

Is it permitted under Swedish law to desecrate religious symbols?

Criticizing a religion or religious symbols is not an offence in Sweden. This falls under the law of freedom of expression which is protected by the constitution. However, there may be cases where this is considered to be agitation against a population group. A court will determine whether or not an act constitutes a criminal offence based on the circumstances in the individual case. 

Does burning a holy scripture constitute agitation against a population group?

Burning a holy scripture does not necessarily constitute agitation against a population group. An overall assessment is made of the actual act in the individual case at hand. There have been several cases reported to the Police in which a Quran has been burnt as part of a public gathering. In some cases, the prosecutor has concluded that burning a Quran alone does not constitute agitation against a population group. However, in the context of other circumstances, such as certain statements, a different assessment may be made. 

Is it permitted under Swedish law to burn flags?

Burning a flag is not normally an offence. However, other regulations may apply in connection with the flag burning, regarding for example disorderly conduct, damage to property or agitation against a population group. Other factors are the type of flag involved, the purpose of the burning and the context in which it occurs.

May I participate in counter-demonstrations?

You always have the right to express your opinions, but you may not disrupt another demonstration. Nor may you commit an offence in order to express your opinion, by tearing down posters or throwing things, for example.

Is a counter-demonstration permit necessary?

Yes, the same rules apply to counter-demonstrations as would apply to other demonstrations.

On what grounds can the Police deny an application to demonstrate?

An application can only be denied if this is necessary to maintain order and safety at the gathering or as a direct consequence of it or in its immediate vicinity. Other factors include traffic and epidemics, as set out in the Public Order Act.

In most cases, disruptions caused by counter-demonstrators at earlier gatherings do not influence the decision. However, factors that may influence the decision are possible serious disruptions and when lives, health or property may be in danger.

If my application for a demonstration is rejected, can I appeal this decision?

Yes, you can appeal a decision and one of Sweden’s administrative courts will review the decision.

What are the duties of the Police in connection with demonstrations?

The role of the Police is to ensure that everyone can express their opinions in accordance with the existing laws and guarantee the practical requirements for demonstrations. The Police are responsible for maintaining public order and security during demonstrations, and must prosecute any crimes committed.

How does the Police work during a demonstration?

During a demonstration, the Police works actively to enable all those who wish to express their opinion to do so without any public disturbances. The Police will intervene against anyone who commits a criminal offence during a demonstration.

Sometimes, what are known as dialogue police officers will be present before, during and after a public gathering. These officers are a link between the Swedish Police Authority and those who wish to engage in opinion-forming activities. The aim is to ensure, through dialogue, that demonstrations can take place without public disturbances. 

When can the Police break up a public gathering?

The Police can break up a public gathering in the event of serious disorder, if the gathering presents a danger to those present or if it seriously disturbs traffic. A lack of permit or the fact that the terms/conditions are not followed is not grounds enough to break up the gathering.

The principle applied is that the minimal intervention possible should be used, with respect to the freedom of opinion and expression protected by the constitution. One mission for the Police is to ensure that all people, regardless of opinion, are given the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to demonstrate. This applies regardless of whether or not the demonstration is regarded as a public gathering, and regardless of whether or not the demonstration has a permit.

When and why can the Police decide to cordon off an area?

  • To guarantee safety, the Police may decide for tactical reasons to cordon off areas or places.
  • For the same reason, the Police may instruct a crowd of people to follow a certain route.
  • Anyone who breaks down a barrier or chooses not to follow the Police’s instructions may be committing a crime.

Is disrupting or hindering a demonstration a breach of law?

Anyone who disrupts a demonstration through a violent act, loud noise or some other way may be guilty of the offence of disturbing a public gathering.

Anyone who disobeys a police officer’s order to stop or move may be reported for the offence of refusing to obey an official command. It is strictly forbidden to hinder the Police from performing its duties.

Are face coverings allowed at demonstrations?

Face coverings are prohibited during demonstrations in the event of public disturbances, such as violent incidents and damage to property – or if there is a risk of such disturbances.

The Police will usually inform the participants when a face covering prohibition applies, but the prohibition applies whether or not the Police has informed the participants.

People who cover their faces on religious grounds are not subject to the prohibition, nor are those who have received permission from the Police in advance to cover their faces.

Is the use of pyrotechnics and firecrackers allowed?

All use and handling of pyrotechnics in the context of public gatherings and demonstrations is subject to a permit.

May I put up posters without permission?

Local regulations in each municipality stipulate the rules for putting up posters etc. Anyone is authorised to put up posters at specific locations intended for this purpose. Putting up posters, for instance election posters, in other public places requires a permit.