Swedish priest who drowned out Quran protest with church bells says children inspired him

Far-right extremists threatened to burn the Quran outside Reverend Fredrik Hollertz's place of worship

Rev Fredrik Hollertz faces police action after he rang church bells to drown out speeches at a far-right rally in Jonkoping, Sweden. Photo: Rev Fredrik Hollertz

A Swedish priest who drowned out a far-right rally, where threats were made to burn the Quran, by ringing his church bells says schoolchildren inspired him to act.

Reverend Fredrik Hollertz was caught on the periphery of a series of protests organised by Danish far-right party Stram Kurs, to burn copies of the Quran in various cities, when local police relocated the rally from a mosque to a site near his church in the Swedish city of Jonkoping.

Dozens were injured after the inflammatory anti-Islam rallies sparked riots across Sweden as hundreds of protesters threw stones and set cars on fire.

Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan, who leads Stram Kurs, launched his campaign on a tour of Sweden during Ramadan.

When Rev Hollertz learnt of the move to assemble in his neighbourhood, he made the decision to drown out Mr Paludan's speech by ringing his church bells repeatedly.

The bells had been rung repeatedly only once since the Second World War, when Rev Hollertz rang them in 2014 in protest against a Neo-Nazi rally outside his church.

"Everyone was really upset about the rallies," he told The National.

"They chose areas with a lot of multicultural people living together. We were very worried about what would happen.

"Throughout history our church bells have been used to warn of danger. In 2014 I rang them for two hours when there was a mass neo-Nazi rally. People remembered it and the teachers told their pupils. Some of the schoolchildren came to see me and asked me if I would ring them again. I said 'you can trust me'.

Rev Fredrik Hollertz, with a member of the community. outside his church in Jonkoping, Sweden. Photo: Rev Fredrik Hollertz

"Someone in the square signalled when he started talking and I started the bells. The bell tower is on the square, it's very loud so it's impossible to talk. People started applauding, some cried and some who were planning violence ceased. A number of Muslim men took to their knees and began praying. It led to a more peaceful conclusion."

Despite Rev Hollertz's good intentions, the authorities did not support his actions and police took steps to stop him.

"They knocked at every window in the church and said they wanted to come in and I had to stop," he said.

"They interrogated me and charged me with committing a crime. I'm still waiting to see if they will drop the charges."

Because of Sweden's liberal stance on free speech, the police said they were unable to revoke permission for the rallies and allowed them to continue.

The right of the protesters “to demonstrate and speak out weighs enormously, heavily and it takes an incredible amount for this to be ignored”, police representative Kim Hild told Swedish news agency TT.

The UAE called in the Swedish ambassador to serve a protest against the actions of the far-right extremists stoking hatred and division. Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the President, Sheikh Khalifa, said on Monday that those involved had taken on an ideology that could not support religions coexisting in peace.

“The wave of hatred and fanaticism that Sweden is witnessing against our true Islamic religion is rejected and poses a danger in its adoption of an ideology that rejects the principles of coexistence,” Dr Gargash wrote on Twitter.

Rev Hollertz is calling for the law to be re-examined to prevent "hurtful" actions being allowed to flourish.

"Of course, we have a strong right to speak out but I cannot see how hurting anybody else's beliefs can create peace and respect, it's not the way," he said.

"We need to talk and we need to be together, we do not need to agree on everything. I'm a devoted Christian and people around me are devoted Muslims and Hindus but we live together in peace and share a common life.

"I hope this will start a discussion over whether it is really wise to have these kind of tours allowing the burning of the Quran. The legislation also needs to be clear so the police can say you have the right to speak your mind but not the right to do it wherever you want, so they can't do these things in heavily populated Muslim areas. It's just hurtful."

The priest's bell-ringing has led to an outpouring of support from the city's Muslim residents.

"The Muslim community has been so generous, their support has been overwhelming," he said.

"Some people have even offered to pay the police fine. The churches and mosques have all been working together to manage this threat.

"If necessary, I would do it all again because there are enough things that separate us and drive us apart, we need peace now more than anything."

Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the Muslim World League have all condemned the far-right party's role in the incident.

Mr Paludan had organised the events in areas with a large Muslim population.

Cars are engulfed by flames after riots broke out at Rosengard in Malmo, Sweden, following rallies led by Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan. TT via AP

Scuffles and unrest were first reported in the southern town of Landskrona on Thursday. This led to officers relocating Mr Paludan's event to the nearby city of Malmo, 43 kilometres south of Stockholm.

However, hundreds of protesters attended and riots broke out.

On Friday evening, violent clashes between demonstrators and counter-protesters erupted in Orebro before Mr Paludan’s plan to burn a Quran.

In Landskrona, several hundred protesters threw stones, erected a barrier and set cars, tyres and dustbins on fire, on Saturday evening.

The same night, similar unrest took place in nearby Malmo, where a city bus was set on fire.

On Sunday, police said they were forced to fire warning shots during a riot in Norrkoping, 160 kilometres south of the capital Stockholm.

Mr Paludan said he decided to cancel Sunday’s demonstrations as the Swedish authorities in the region had “shown that they are completely incapable of protecting themselves and me”.

In 2020, Mr Paludan, a lawyer, was disbarred from the legal profession for three years and sentenced to three months in jail after being found guilty of racism.

He was banned from Sweden for two years after burning the Quran but he later bypassed the order after his application for Swedish citizenship was successful.

He was previously jailed in 2019 for making a racist speech.

Updated: April 19, 2022, 3:17 PM
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