New Quran burning in Sweden as it considers legal options

Denmark says it will seek powers to stop desecration rather than 'wait for this to explode'

Swedish police granted a permit for a protest outside the parliament in Stockholm. Getty Images
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Two activists again burnt the Quran in Stockholm on Monday, as a minister told Muslim countries that Sweden was exploring its legal options.

Defying a noisy counter-demonstration, the two men held a protest outside Sweden's parliament, where the Quran was kicked around and the pages set on fire.

It was the third such desecration in recent weeks by organisers Salwan Najem and Salwan Momika, despite condemnation from the Muslim world. Similar stunts have taken place in Denmark.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq called for a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation on Monday to address the protests in Sweden and Denmark.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said he had sent a letter to the group's 57 members explaining that Stockholm was “clear in its rejection” of Quran burning.

He told them that Swedish police decide independently whether to allow protests after the government was criticised for condoning them.

But he said Sweden's Justice Ministry “is analysing the legal situation, including the Public Order Act” after courts struck down earlier attempts to ban the gatherings.

Denmark said on Sunday it hoped to find a “legal tool” to intervene, which Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said he hoped would de-escalate tensions.

The government said it would seek powers to step in if there are “significant negative consequences for Denmark, not least with regard to security”.

“It is not because we feel pressured to do so, but it is our political analysis that it is in the best interest of all of us,” Mr Rasmussen said.

“We shouldn't just sit and wait for this to explode.”

A permit was granted for the protest on Monday. The organisers told local media they wanted to see the Muslim holy book banned in Sweden.

“I will burn it many times, until you ban it,” Mr Najem told the newspaper Expressen.

Mr Najem has joined by Iraqi-born activist Mr Momika at two previous such protests in Stockholm – outside the city's main mosque and later outside Iraq's embassy,

Police in Sweden have stressed they only grant permits for people to hold public gatherings and do not endorse what happens at such events.

Diplomatic strain

Sweden has seen its diplomatic relations with several Muslim countries strained over the protests. A crowd stormed its embassy in Baghdad this month.

Last week, Sweden ordered 15 government bodies including the armed forces, several law enforcement agencies and the tax office to strengthen anti-terrorism efforts.

On Sunday, Denmark said it would explore legal means of stopping protests involving the burning of holy texts, citing security concerns following backlash over incidents in which the Quran was desecrated.

Both Swedish and Danish envoys have been summoned by Iraq.

Meanwhile, on Monday the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation stated its “disappointment” with the response by Sweden and Denmark to a spate of Quran burnings that have sparked outrage across the Middle East.

Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha called on both countries to prevent the desecration of the Quran and “expressed his disappointment that no measures were taken in this regard so far”, the 57-member, Saudi Arabia-based body said in a statement after the opening session of an extraordinary meeting on the issue.

“It is unfortunate that the concerned authorities claiming freedom of expression continue to provide licences to repeat these acts contrary to international law, and this leads to a lack of respect for religions,” Mr Taha said during the meeting.

After the meeting ended, the organisation said Mr Taha would lead a delegation to the EU to urge officials there “to take the necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such criminal acts under the pretext of freedom of expression”.

It also called on UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to appoint a special rapporteur on combating Islamophobia.

Updated: August 01, 2023, 3:14 AM