Malaysian demonstrators burn Swedish flag

A Swedish flag was set alight outside the country's embassy in Malaysia on Friday as protesters gathered to demand action be taken against cartoonist Lars Vilks and newspapers that published his caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Malaysian demonstrators burn Swedish flag

Around 200 demonstrators from Muslim groups turned out in Kuala Lumpur to protest the caricatures which depict the prophet as a dog. The demonstrators handed over a letter of protest to Sweden’s ambassador in Malaysia, Helena Sångeland.

“They want to protest against the the publication of Lars Vilks’ drawings in Swedish newspapers. Their demand is that the Swedish government acts against the Swedish newspapers which published the pictures and also against Lars Vilks,” Helena Sångeland told news agency TT.

The demonstration ended with the pulling down of the Swedish embassy’s flag, which was then burned.

“It was very surprising and something that we can not tolerate. We have reported the matter to the police,” Sångeland said.

According to the ambassador the youth league for the main Islamic party, PAS, and several other Muslim organisation threatened a boycott of Swedish products in demonstrations held a couple of weeks ago.

A smaller demonstration with only a handful of participants was held outside the embassy on Thursday. On that occasion the Malaysian right-wing group Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa Malaysia (Perkasa) handed over a protest letter.

Despite angry reactions from many in Malaysia, the ambassador does not consider there to be any risk for Swedish visitors to the country.

“Absolutely not. Nor can I see that our bilateral relations should change because of this,” she said.

The controversy started when Swedish regional daily Nerikes Allehanda published Vilks’ satirical cartoon in 2007 to illustrate an editorial on the importance of freedom of expression.

The cartoon prompted protests by Muslims in the town of Örebro, west of Stockholm, where the newspaper is based, while Egypt, Iran and Pakistan made

formal complaints.

An Al-Qaeda front organisation then offered $100,000 to anyone who murdered Vilks – with an extra $50,000 if his throat was slit – and $50,000 for the death of Nerikes Allehanda editor-in-chief Ulf Johansson.

The protests in Sweden echoed the uproar caused in Denmark by the publication in September 2005 of 12 drawings focused on Islam, including one showing the prophet Muhammad with a turban in the shape of a bomb.

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Swedish artist Lars Vilks, known for Muhammad cartoon, killed in car accident

Swedish artist Lars Vilks, known for his cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as well as his huge wooden sculptures, died in a car accident on Sunday.

Swedish artist Lars Vilks gives a lecture
Swedish artist Lars Vilks, pictured here giving a lecture in 2015, died in a car collision on Sunday. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

The 75-year-old has lived under police protection due to death threats over his 2007 Prophet Muhammad drawing. He and two police officers were killed in a collision with an oncoming truck, Swedish police confirmed to AFP, and the accident is currently not being treated as suspicious.

“This is being investigated like any other road accident. Because two policemen were involved, an investigation has been assigned to a special section of the prosecutor’s office,” a police spokesperson told AFP, adding that there was no suspicion of foul play.

The accident occurred near the small town Markaryd when the car Vilks was travelling in crashed into an oncoming truck. Both vehicles caught fire and the truck driver was sent to hospital for treatment, according to police. In a statement, the police said the cause of the accident was unclear.

“The person we were protecting and two colleagues died in this inconceivable and terribly sad tragedy,” said regional police head Carina Persson.

Vilks had been under police protection since 2010, after his cartoon of Muhammad with a dog’s body published in Swedish newspapers three years earlier prompted outrage among those who consider depictions of the Muslim prophet deeply offensive or blasphemous. Al-Qaeda offered a $100,000 reward for Vilks’ murder.

The depiction also sparked diplomatic friction, with Sweden’s then prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt meeting ambassadors from several Muslim countries to ease tensions. In 2015, Vilks survived a gun attack at a free-speech conference in Copenhagen that left a Danish film director dead.

While the Muhammad drawing is what Vilks was best known for internationally, he was primarily a sculptor.

His most significant work is the driftwood sculpture Nimis, which he began building in a Skåne national park in 1980.

This work was also not without controversy; Vilks built it illegally without acquiring a permit, sparking a legal dispute with local authorities who demanded it be destroyed. The artist sold both Nimis and a second artwork, and although he was fined for building them, and Nimis was badly damaged in a 2016 fire, they remain largely standing today.