The restriction on public gatherings is one of the measures in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which has seen almost 5,000 deaths in Sweden. Unlike many of Sweden's coronavirus measures, the 50-person limit is not voluntary and organisers of events over that number could face fines or even imprisonment.
“The right to demonstrate is protected by the constitution. There is currently a government order that the freedom to gather and to demonstrate must be limited, in order to combat the epidemic. There is therefore a possibility under the Public Order Act to deny permits for public gatherings,” police noted in a statement.
Over recent weeks, large numbers have gathered to protest against racism and police brutality in Sweden's major cities. The protests were sparked by the killing of black American George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, with demonstrators marching in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and to raise awareness of racial inequality across the world.
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In Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö permits were granted on the basis that organisers kept events below 50 people, but many times that number of people showed up. Police have broken up the demonstrations, but this has led to large groups marching through the streets, although all the protests so far have been mostly peaceful.
“Against the background of events over the recent weeks, it's becoming increasingly clear that in many cases it's impossible for an organiser to maintain the requirement of a maximum of 50 participants, even if the organiser has good intentions and said they were willing to follow this condition,” the police statement said.
“This has, at certain recent demonstrations, led to large gatherings and an obvious risk of spread of infection.”
This means that police will now be more restrictive when deciding when to grant permits, and the decision will be made on a case-by-case basis.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has said that large gatherings are one of the environments where the coronavirus is most easily spread, even outdoors, and that the protests could “absolutely” pose a health risk. “We hope that those taking part follow the guidelines, absolutely don't attend if they are unwell and keep distance from others at the scene,” he said.
Some anti-racism campaigners in Sweden have chosen to hold protests online, including by asking supporters to digitally check in to the US embassy, upload slogans or pictures, or by live-streaming talks.