(Apr. 7, 2021) On March 31, 2021, the Supreme Court of Sweden issued a judgment finding that song lyrics that named a female police officer and included threatening language did not constitute the crime of threatening a police officer (hot mot tjänsteman), but was protected under the constitutional right to freedom of expression. (Supreme Court, Case No. B 6101-9; English summary.)
The Swedish rap artist Frej Larsson produced two songs titled “Då ska hon skjutas” (“Then she should be shot”—a well-known phrase that is part of a famous Swedish birthday song) and “Att göra en [AL]” (“To do an [AL]”—“AL” being the police officer’s initials as used in the court decision). The lyrics of the two songs named a female police officer who had previously arrested several persons at one of Larsson’s concerts. In addition to the birthday-song phrase “and then she should be shot,” the lyrics of one of the songs call AL a dirty fish and say that all fishes shall be made to suffer. The songs were made available on the music app Spotify during a three-day period and were played 24,000 and 14,000 times, respectively. (Case at ¶¶ 1–5.)
The national prosecutor brought charges against Larsson for the crime of threatening a person in her official capacity (hot mot tjänsteman), criminalized in the Criminal Code. (17 kap. 1 § Brottsbalken (SFS 1962:700).) Larsson was acquitted by the local district court, which stated that the defendant lacked the requisite intent to threaten the police officer. That decision was appealed to Svea Appellate Court, which found Larsson guilty of threatening a police officer.
Supreme Court Case
Larsson filed a petition with the Supreme Court to hear an appeal, which the court granted.
The Swedish Constitution protects free speech and allows only a few, very specific limitations on free speech, including threats of violence. (2 kap. 23 § Regeringsformen (SFS 1974:152).)
The court noted that, in balancing artistic freedom of expression and the protection of public officials, “lyrics and music that are performed in a cultural setting must in a democratic and pluralistic society be allowed to be provocative, challenging and inquisitorial.” (Case at ¶ 21.) The court specifically noted that Larsson’s rap music is “a provocative and transgressive music genre” and that therefore “certain words are used in a manner that can hardly be taken literally and that these can have different meanings.” Thus, the artistic expression could not be deemed a threat to the police officer, even if it “surely was perceived as unpleasant for her.” (Case at 28, 34, translation by author.)
Two judges dissented, arguing that although any restriction on freedom of expression must be very limited, the language in the lyrics was clearly intended to be understood as a threat of physical violence against AL and directly related to acts she had previously performed in her role as a police officer. (Case, Dissenting Opinion.)