Sweden 'at risk' thanks to Russian-backed Quran burning disinformation

Protesters in Lahore, Pakistan hold copies of the Quran as they chant slogans to denounce a burning of the holy book that took place in Sweden
Protesters in Lahore, Pakistan hold copies of the Quran as they chant slogans to denounce a burning of the holy book that took place in Sweden Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AP, AFP
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Recent incidents at protests have attracted outrage and formal diplomatic action from several Muslim-majority countries


Sweden's domestic security service has warned that the country is facing "elevated threats" after recent Quran burnings in the country, with a top government minister blaming much of the fallout on disinformation from Russia and other hostile governments.

Minister for Civil Defense Carl-Oskar Bohlin said Wednesday that the Quran desecrations have made Sweden a target of malicious influencing campaigns "by states and state-like actors with the aim of damaging Swedish interests and ultimately Swedish citizens."

"We can see how Russia-backed actors are amplifying incorrect statements such as that the Swedish state is behind the desecration of holy scriptures," he said.

The Swedish Security Service said the burning and desecration of religious books in Sweden, and ongoing disinformation campaigns on social media and elsewhere, have negatively affected Sweden's profile.

The image of Sweden has changed "from a tolerant country to a country hostile to Islam and Muslims, where attacks on Muslims are sanctioned by the state and where Muslim children can be kidnapped by social services," the agency, which is known by the Swedish acronym SAPO, said in a statement.

The country's current reputation risks fueling threats against Sweden "from individuals within the violent Islamist milieu," the agency said – adding that the risk of terrorism in Sweden remains at an elevated level, at three on a five-point scale.

Primce minister Ulf Kristersson expressed concern about the security repercussions of the recent tensions caused by an Iraqi refugee's public attack on the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

"These events are being reported inaccurately, sometimes with direct calls to strike at our country", he noted in an Instagram post.

In a separate statement, Bohlin, meanwhle, warned of "a risk that the current disinformation campaigns against Sweden will threaten the situation of Swedish companies and nationals abroad, and create a threat to national security".

Incendiary actions

Sweden does not have a law specifically prohibiting the burning or desecration of the Quran or other religious texts. Like many Western countries, it doesn't have any blasphemy laws; Sweden's were abandoned in the 1970s.

At the same time, the right to hold public demonstrations is valued and protected by the Swedish Constitution. Police generally give permission based on whether they believe a public gathering can be held without major disruptions or risks to public safety.

A recent string of public Quran desecrations by a handful of anti-Islam activists in Sweden - and more recently in neighboring Denmark - has sparked angry demonstrations in Muslim countries.

In Egypt, Al-Azhar Mosque, the oldest Sunni institution in the Muslim world, urged Muslims on Tuesday to boycott Swedish and Danish products. The Cairo-based institution decried decisions by Swedish and Danish governments that allowed the burning of the Quran and said such policies would open the door for racist and anti-Islam policies.

Bohlin debunked claims that the Swedish government grants permission for people to burn the Islam's sacred text or other religious books, something that "is factually incorrect."

"No state permits are issued for burning," he told reporters at a news conference. "The state guarantees the right to freedom of expression but does not sanction political messages. Sweden has no tradition of burning holy scriptures. On the contrary. Sweden is a secular country where religious freedom is a cornerstone and where there is respect for different beliefs."

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, in a statement on Wednesday, condemned the desecrations of holy books in Sweden and Denmark, saying the acts "by individual provocateurs only benefit those who want to divide us and our societies."

"Respect for diversity is a core value of the European Union. This includes respect for other religious communities," the EU's top diplomat said. "The desecration of the Quran, or of any other book considered holy, is offensive, disrespectful and a clear provocation. Expressions of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance have no place in the European Union."

Foreign Minister Tobias Billström and SAPO representatives were due to appear before Swedish Parliament's foreign affairs committee Thursday to discuss the Quran burning crisis. The gathering was requested by the opposition Social Democratic Party.

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