Swedes take protests online as freedom of assembly is further restricted due to pandemic

Peaceful Assembly

Following mass protests against racism in the US, after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer, Black Lives Matter protests have spread across the globe, including in Sweden.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Swedish government has temporarily banned gatherings of more than 50 people, which includes public protests and demonstrations. Several Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö intended to stay within this limit of 50 but attracted vastly more people. A demonstration of 8,000 people in Stockholm was eventually broken up by the police.

As a result, Swedish police have issued a statement saying that they will be stricter in granting permits for demonstrations. The government and police now fear that the mass gatherings will lead to the further spread of the virus and will no longer grant permits for demonstrations that they expect to attract more than 50 people.

In the meantime people have also taken their protests against racism online. On 2nd June 2020, over 40,000 people took part in a protest organised by Stop Afrophobia, Afro-Swedes Forum for Justice and the Afro-Swedes Association. Organisers urged people to check in at the US Embassy via Facebook. Organisers said:

We have had enough and demand justice and equity for Black people everywhere who continue to be oppressed, targeted, abused and neglected simply because of the colour of their skin!”

Expression

As documented by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Swedish cartoonist Mahmoud Abbas received hate messages on social media after posting a cartoon on Facebook during April 2020 which commented on the collapse of oil prices. The image depicted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman running down a hill away from an oil barrel. The cartoonist was threatened online and personal details about him and his family were also leaked.

“Unfortunately, it has become more common that foreign state institutions and power groups attack journalists in Sweden. This foreign interference, which threatens free speech and the freedom to inform in Sweden, must not be tolerated. The authorities must do everything necessary to ensure that Sweden continues to be a press freedom model in Europe,”- Erik Halkjaer, the President of RSF Sweden.

In a separate development, a new report by RSF entitled “Swedish Public Service Media Under Fire” documents “political interference, legal threats and economic problems” facing Swedish public media.

“Observing the situation in Europe, we see that the public media are threatened by a lack of funding and growing political control. We must safeguard free and independent journalism in Sweden. This is why we must protect their independence by enshrining it in the Swedish constitution,”- RSF Sweden president Erik Halkjaer.