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Muslim ambassadors: 'Sweden needs to change its laws'

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17:19 CEST+02:00
Ambassadors from Muslim countries have indicated that they intend to present the Swedish prime minister with a list of demands when they meet for talks on Friday.

Fredrik Reinfeldt invited the ambassadors from 20 Muslim countries to government offices on Friday following a wave of protests from Muslim countries after the publication of a caricature of Muhammad in local newspaper Nerikes Allehanda.

Reinfeldt's press secretary Oscar Hållén was unable to say which countries had confirmed their attendance.

Egyptian ambassador Mohamed Sotouhi told news agency TT that he and a group of fellow ambassadors had agreed on a list of measures Sweden needed to take if it was to secure a long-term solution to the Muhammad cartoon controversy.

According to Sotouhi, "comprehensive measures" were required if Sweden was to prevent some "amateur artist" from reawakening tensions every other month.

"We want to see action, not just nice words. We have to push for a change in the law," he said.

"Muslims need legal protection against the desecration of the Prophet Muhammad, maybe something similar to the protection enjoyed by Jews and homosexuals."

While praising the "very constructive steps" taken by Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Egyptian ambassador said that Sweden had much work left to do.

"In the long term the school curriculum has to convince pupils that if they want to express their opinion they should do so in such a way that it doesn't cause offence or hurt. This should also be part of journalism training," said Sotouhi.

"A permanent parliamentary committee also needs to be established to tackle islamophobia," he added.

The ambassador urged Reinfeldt to strive towards "reaching a balance between freedom of speech and taking responsibility to avoid offending Muslims or other religious groups in this society".

"Everybody will compare his wisdom with the situation in Denmark, whose prime minister treated the problem with a sort of arrogance, or at least delayed taking action to prevent the problem from escalating," he said.

Sotouhi described Sweden as a sophisticated country containing talented and creative diplomats.

"They know that proactive measures are necessary and we are ready to cooperate with them," he said.

Algeria's ambassador to Sweden, Merzak Bedjaoui, said the meeting "was an excellent initiative taken in a spirit of appeasement."

"At our level, we are trying to work hand in hand with Swedish authorities to try to create a real bridge between our communities," he said.

"When we speak of a dialogue between civilisations, it can't just be a catchy slogan. I think that the publication of this kind of caricature doesn't help at all," he said.

Earlier in the day the Oscar Hållén said that the meeting would form "part of our dialogue with these countries."

"We want to emphasize the fact that Muslims and Christians live side by side in Sweden in a spirit of mutual respect," he said.

Hållén further added that the government intended to reiterate its earler defence of Swedish laws surrounding freedom of expression.

The government has indicated that the meeting will not be open to journalists.

TT/The Local/AFP

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