Legal aspects

When we as activists try to change the world we run into a legal and policiary system which is made to protect businesses rather than protect the humans living in this world. To know your rights is important as police often lie, try to trick you, or threaten you. To just rely on your legal rights is dangerous though. Cops don’t keep t othe law but can, besides lying, openly ignore their legal bounds as they are seen by the legal system as infalliable and objective. So learn your rights, take it easy and never talk to cops. Everything you say can and will be used against you. Great societal changes have always happened with the law as our opponent. With that said, it is important to know the law to know what is true or not, what risks you face and to avoid uncertainty and the stress that comes with it. 

Swedish law

The law is not always followed by law enforcement authorities or individuals, and therefore situations that are not explained in this booklet can arise. Political activism does not always follow the law, and therefore it can be good to know what, for example, the police have and do not have the legal right to do. The symbol § means paragraph and shows where in the law exactly this is regulated. If it says eg (RB 1:1§ 2st) it means the first chapter, first paragraph, second passage in text of the Code of Judical Procedure. PL is the abbreviation for the Police Act. When special rules apply to those who do not have Swedish citizenship or are under the age of 18, it is stated.

Police interventions. According to the constitution, in order to be able to intervene, the police must have the support in at least one law. (RF 1:1§) The police may only intervene if it is necessary to achieve the purpose, and the intervention may only be so large that it is proportionate to the purpose. This is called the principle of proportionality. (PL 8§) You can demand to know i accordance to which law the police is doing something, e.g. searching you!

Take photos and film. It is legal to photograph and film police officers, both uniformed and civilian, in public places. However, it may be illegal if the purpose is to molest. If this is the case, it is both required that you aim to harass, mess with the person, but also that the person feels harassed, offended, by this. It can be good to have any police abuse documented, but keep in mind that anything you document can be used as evidence against you and others if the police get their hands on it.

PL 24 area. According to PL 24§, the police can delimit an area (with the help of e.g. riot fence, cordon tape and information patches) to completely prevent people from entering, or set special conditions for you to be allowed to enter the area. One such condition may be that you must identify yourself. If you try to enter the area anyway, the police can remove you and your attempt can also be criminal, which is called disobedience to law enforcement (Criminal Code § 16:3).

Identification. The police may want to identify you in various situations, e.g. in custody. The police can, upon removal, custody or arrest, search you to find out your identity. (PL § 19) You do not have to give your identity unless they have a specific reason to do so. The police cannot take you to the police station just because you don’t want to identify yourself. In order to be taken into custody to identify you, they must have a legal basis, e.g. that they suspect you are wanted. Then they can hold you for 6 hours, or if it is of particular importance to identify you for another 6 hours. (PL 14§) If you have neither citizenship in Sweden nor in another country that is part of the Schengen cooperation, you must show your passport to the police if they ask for it. (Utlänningslagen 9:9§) If you are a citizen of another Schengen country, eg Denmark, you do not have to show a passport, but you do need an ID to show that you belong to a category that does not need to show a passport.

Visitation. The police can, upon removal, custody or arrest, search you to search for narcotics or weapons (PL § 19). In Sweden, it is both illegal to carry drugs and to be under the influence of them. You may not carry a knife or other object that is suitable for use as a weapon in a public place. (Act on the prohibition of knives and other dangerous objects, § 1).

Masking. Masking is covering the face with the purpose of making identification difficult. There is a ban on masking, but it only applies when there has been, or is just about to be, a disorder in a demonstration or gathering in a public place. The police must state when the ban comes into effect. It is not forbidden to mask oneself at, for example, a demonstration as long as there is no violence or damage at or in connection with it. It is not illegal to just carry a mask with you. It is never illegal to cover your face for religious reasons if you do it everyday as well. The penalty scale for masking is a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of 6 months. (Act prohibiting masking in certain cases)


Disturbing the public order. According to the constitution, you have the right to demonstrate, exercise freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, but if the activities are deemed to disturb public order (or threaten to do so), the police can intervene in the following ways:

Deny/Rejecting: The police order you to leave the scene or do not grant access to a certain location. (PL § 13)

Remove: The police remove you by hand, briefly and for a short distance. The police may search you to look for weapons or find out who you are. (PL § 13)

Taken into custody: The police take you away from a place, to a police station or your home. This they can do if they consider denying/rejecting or removing is not enough. (PL 13 § 2 st) You always have the right to know why you are being taken into custody (PL § 15). When taken into custody according to PL § 13, you may be detained for a maximum of 6 hours, but you must be released immediately after questioning. (PL 16 §2 st) If you are under eighteen years of age, you must be released to a parent or other suitable adult. (PL § 16) You can be taken into custody because you have disturbed the public order, but this does not automatically mean that further penalties (eg prosecution or fines) will be relevant.

These three interventions must take place in this mentioned order and can be directed at an individual person or at an entire crowd.

Busing. If a crowd is considered disturbing the public order, the police can detain the entire group through a so-called extended removal. (PL 13c§) Then the police collect a whole group of people and drive you away in a bus, often to a place far away. The police must release you no later than two hours after you were detained. Those of you who are bused must be notified as to why. (PL15§).

Suspicion of crime. If you are suspected of having committed a crime, you can be detained in the following three ways:

“Gripa”/Arrest: Decisions are made by the police. In most cases, you may not be detained for longer than 6 hours, that is the maximum time for how long you may be held for questioning without being arrested. (RB 23:9§) In special cases, the police can detain you for an additional 6 hours. If you are under the age of fifteen, you can be held for a maximum of 3 hours, and in special cases a further 3 hours. (RB 24:7§) When you are caught, you must be told what crime you are suspected of and on what grounds. (RB 24:9§)

“Anhålla”/Detain: Decisions are made by prosecutors. You can be detained for 3 days, then a court must decide whether you should be put in jail pending trial or released. If you are detained, in most cases you have the right to a lawyer which is paid by the state.

“Häkta”/Put in jail pending trial: Decisions are made by the court. The decision taken before a judge is reviewed every 14 days and although there is no maximum limit, it should not exceed the possible length of any prison sentence. You can be detained until the court considers that you will not escape, commit more crimes, destroy evidence or complicate the preliminary investigation. If you do not have Swedish citizenship, you may run a greater risk of being detained as you may be assumed to have a greater flight risk. 

Interrogation. Interrogations are held because the police want to gather information. You can be questioned as a witness, suspect or victim of a crime, on the spot or at the police station. If you are in a place where a crime has been committed, the police can take you in for questioning. (RB 23:8§). The police or the prosecutor who conducts the interrogation records everything that is said and it can be used court. Keep in mind that everything you say affects the situation of others and that everything that becomes part of a preliminary investigation becomes public when charges are brought. The person interrogating you must not threaten you or, for example, promise a lower sentence if you speak. It is not a police officer who decides any punishment, it is done much later in the process by a court. During an interrogation, you have the right to an interrogation witness, a person who sits with you as support during the interrogation. As long as the person does not influence the investigation, anyone can be an interrogation witness; a friend, a law student or your lawyer. (RB23:10§) Your or others’ possible guilt must be proven by the police, you always have the right to answer eg “No comments”. You are under no obligation to answer any questions at all, and it is totally legal not to answer any questions. Perjury is a crime that can only be committed by a person who is a witness during a trial.

Penalty order. A prosecutor can ask you to sign a penalty order, it is similar to the fines the police can give when you are stopped for example on a bicycle without lights. This is like a

speedy trial, a way to get a quick verdict on a less serious crime. The difference from a normal process is that there will be no main hearing before a court. However, the sentence gets

same meaning, it is entered in the charge register and the fine you approve through the order must be paid. It is not possible to withdraw or appeal a penalty order with general, ordinary legal remedies. (RB ch. 48) You do not have to approve a penalty order, you always have the right to have your case heard by a court, so you always have the right to refuse to write

Sabotage against blue light personnel. Since January 1, 2020, a law we translate to “sabotage against blue lightpersonnel”, also called the blue light law, has been in effect. The law can be used for violations of all blue light personnel, such as ambulance crews, rescue services and the police, but have almost only been applied in connection with crimesagainst the police. The penalty scale ranges from a fine up to prison for a maximum of 4 years, or, if considered serious, instead in the range of 2-18 years. The legal text reads: “Anyone who attacks or otherwise interferes with police operations, emergency services or ambulance care by the fact that     

  • 1. use violence or threats of violence against the organizations staff or against persons assisting the organization     

    2. Interferes with or damages vehicles or other aids used by the organization or     

    3. take other undue action   

is sentenced, if the act is liable to seriously hamper or prevent emergency activities or law enforcement activities, for sabotage against blue light operations to prison for a maximum of four years. ” Since the law is relatively new, it is still unclear how it affects activists. Those sentenced so far, for example, has used their car to block police cars during a chase and protesters have rather been convicted of riots, violence against an official and the like.