A new espionage law, which came into effect in Sweden on January 1, has been met with widespread criticism from journalists and progressive sections within the country and abroad. The Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, passed the law on November 16, 2022, with 270 votes in favor and 37 against. The law makes amendments to the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression to incorporate and criminalize “foreign espionage,” “aggravated foreign espionage,” and “disclosure of secret information in the framework of international cooperation” in the Swedish penal code.
The right-wing Swedish Democrats, the Center Party, the Social Democrats, the Moderate Party, and the Liberal Party voted in favor of the bill, while MPs from the Left Party and the Greens voted against. As the parliament was voting on the bill back in November, hundreds of people demonstrated at Mynttorget in Stockholm in protest.
According to reports, the new law will allow police to investigate publishers, journalists, and whistleblowers if they expose secret or sensitive information that may damage Sweden’s relationship with another state or an international organization, such as the NATO, European Union (EU), or the United Nations (UN). If such allegations are ‘proved,’ sentences of up to four years can be given for publicizing sensitive information.
The law has been criticized by journalists and their unions as being detrimental to freedom of the press and speech, and likely to adversely affect whistleblowers, journalists, and responsible publishers in the country. Progressive groups and communists have also alleged that the law was promulgated and passed in order to cover up secrets and scandals involved in Sweden’s bid to join NATO and its participation in imperialist conflicts.
Andreas Sörensen from the Communist Party of Sweden (SKP) told Peoples Dispatch on January 3, “The new law, which limits the right to free speech and investigative journalism, comes against the background of sharpening imperialist contradictions, creating a need to secure the home front. This becomes especially important as Sweden is seeking entry into NATO.”
“It is worth pointing out that it is not the current government that took the initiative for the law, but the previous government, consisting of Social Democrats and the Greens, which makes clear that there is political consensus on this question,” he claimed.
Last year, against the backdrop of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, Sweden, along with its neighbor Finland, discarded its traditional policy of neutrality and applied for NATO membership, courting criticism from anti-imperialist voices in the region.
In November last year, the Communist Party in Sweden had stated that “the restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press do not come in a vacuum, they are closely linked to Sweden’s rapprochement with NATO. It is also NATO cooperation and upcoming NATO wars in which Sweden participates that should not be compromised by any whistleblowers on the inside or by some curious investigative journalists and brave responsible publishers.”
“This means that it will be punishable for whistleblowers, journalists, and responsible publishers to, for example, expose war crimes in international efforts in which Sweden participates. This means that it will also be punishable to expose lies on which international war efforts are based, such as the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq, for example. Sweden is now getting laws that allow Swedish journalists and whistleblowers to meet the same fate as Julian Assange, who is languishing in prison for exposing the US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the party had stated.