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Church threatened over pro-Muslim service

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Church threatened over pro-Muslim service
A Pegida rally in Dresden on January 25th. Photo: Jens Meyer/AP Photo
15:05 CET+01:00
UPDATE: Representatives of the Swedish Church say they have received threats after a church in Malmö announced plans to hold a service in support of Muslims during a demonstration by the anti-Islam group Pegida.

Last week the city's St Petri Church announced that it would be holding a service in solidarity with the Muslim community and those from other religions during the Pegida demonstration, which will take place on the Stortorget square on Monday evening. 

“During the manifestation, the Swedish Church is going to hold a service where we express joy for our city and our Muslim friends,” Malmö parish vicar Anders Ekhem told The Local on Friday.

“There is strong support for diverse cultures in Malmö and it is important that the church is there to support that.”

But on Monday the Church said it had received death threats as a result of its decision.

“Since we went public about celebrating this church service we have received many reactions. Many positive, but also many who have criticized us. And in this critique there are more-or-less clear threats,” Anders Ekhem, parson in the Swedish Church in Malmö, told Sydsvenskan.

The demonstration was organized through a Facebook group and according to Dagens ETC, consists of sympathizers of both the Sweden Democrats, the Swedish Nazi Party, and the newspaper Dispatch International. 

One of the members of the group wrote: “We have a crusade – de-islamize Sweden and by wearing crosses in public we can show that we are many."

Although it is unclear how many people will attend, former gallery owner Henrik Rönnquist, who is behind Monday's march, told local newspaper Sydsvenskan: "We expect at least 200 people to attend, but maybe as many as a couple of thousand."

A counter-demonstration has also been planned through the Facebook page entitled “Stop the hate march – Pegida are not welcome in Malmö”, with thousands saying they will attend.

“Apparently there is considerable interest. Several thousand have said that they will come,” said Maja Redoubt, the organizer of No Pegida Sweden. 

Pegida marches – which have voiced anger against Islam and “criminal asylum seekers” – began in Germany with a few hundred supporters when the owner of public relations firm Lutz Bachmann started a Facebook group in Dresden in October.

They have grown steadily since then, drawing a record 25,000 people on January 12th just after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

But Swedish anti-racism magazine Expo reporter Daniel Vergare told news agency TT he did not think the organization would have a future in Sweden. 

"I don't think Pegida as such will become a large movement in Sweden. But I still think you should always worry when a group takes its mistrust of minorities to the street. Partly because it galvanizes the tension and partly because it points the finger at minorities," he said.

SEE ALSO: The rise and spread of Pegida

The German branch’s 19-point manifesto released in December 2014 calls for stricter immigration and asylum laws as well as making integration part of the constitution. It also calls for the outright rejection of any immigrant, refugee or asylum seeker with a criminal background.

But their response in Scandinavia, with marches held in Denmark as well as Norway, has thus far been lukewarm. Only 70 people showed up to a rally held in Norway earlier this year, with the group far outnumbered my counter-demonstrators.

Earlier this year the movement suffered a blow when its German founder Lutz Bachmann resigned his leadership following widespread outrage over Facebook photos of him in an Adolf Hitler costume. 

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