KEY POINTS: Why did Sweden's police allow another Quran burning?

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KEY POINTS: Why did Sweden's police allow another Quran burning?
The Iraqi anti-Islam campaigner Salwan Momika burns a copy of the Quran outside the mosque in Stockholm. Photo: Stefan Jerrevång/TT

An Iraqi critic of Islam burned a copy of the Quran outside Stockholm's main mosque after Swedish police dropped their earlier opposition to his planned protest. What's the background to the decision?


Who was behind the Quran burning and why did he want to do it? 

Salwan Momika, from Iraq, said he wanted to burn the Quran, the holy book of Islam, to protest against the Muslim religion, rather than to protest against Sweden joining Nato. 

"We are going to burn the Quran," he told the TT newswire before carrying out the act on the afternoon of June 28th. "We are going to say 'wake up Sweden. This is democracy and it will be in danger if they say we can't do it'." 

"We are not fighting against Muslims, but against their thoughts. We are not against Muslims, we are on their side," he said. 

Momika has said previously that he believed the Muslim religion had such a negative impact that the Quran should be banned globally. 

Why did police give him permission? 

Police in February banned Momika from buring the Quran outside Iraq's embassy on the grounds that doing so risked causing a public disturbance, as happened across Sweden in Easter 2022. It also banned an anti-Nato group from burning the book. 

But in April, an administrative court overturned the ban, ruling that the right to assembly and the right to protest are both protected under Sweden's constitutional laws, unless they pose a concrete security threat. 

"The opportunities available to refuse permission for a public gathering are very limited. The administrative court does not consider that the threat presented as the basis for the Police Authority's decision to deny the permits is sufficiently concrete and connected to the gathering in question," Eva-Lotta Hedin, a lawyer, told TT at the time. 

This meant that the police had no justification for stopping the protest. 


"The permission for today's gathering has been given out in consideration of the fact that the Court of Appeal has rejected those decisions," Helena Boström Thomas, a police spokesperson, told TT on Wednesday. "The basic rule is that an application for permission to hold a public event should in general be accepted."

Momika is now being investigated by police on two counts: possible hate crimes, because it took place outside a mosque, and breaking Stockholm's current ban on lighting fires (there's a fire ban in place due to the current tinder-dry conditions sparking a risk of wildfires).

The way Swedish freedom of expression laws work mean that police can't preemptively stop a protest from going ahead because they suspect someone might break the law (by for example lighting a fire in spite of a fire ban), but the person can be charged with a criminal offence afterwards.


What was the reaction to the Quran burning? 

At least at the time of writing, the burning of the Quran in central Stockholm on Wednesday did not cause anything like the level of disruption caused in Easter 2022, when a series of Quran burnings carried out by the Danish extremist Rasmus Paludan in areas with high immigrant population led to riots across Sweden. 

A journalist from TT estimated that only around 200 people attended the burning, with one woman saying the Lord's Prayer and waving around a cross, one man being seized by police and those supporting the burnings shouting at those supporting the mosque. 

Outside the mosque, elderly Muslim men stood, pleading with younger Muslims not to be provoked.

"Just go inside the mosque, don't give him any attention. The Quran is in your hearts," one said. 

Morocco swiftly recalled its ambassador in response to the incident.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan called the burning of the pages of the Islamic holy book "despicable."

"It is unacceptable to allow these anti-Islamic actions under the pretext  of freedom of expression," Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan wrote on Twitter. "Turning a blind eye to such atrocious acts is to be complicit."

What happened last time the Quran was burned? 

The decision by the Danish extremist Rasmus Paludan to burn the Quran outside the Turkish embassy at the end of January led to Sweden's talks with Turkey's government over Nato membership being put on hold, and Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan saying that his country will not back Sweden's membership of Nato unless burning copies of the Quran is made illegal. 


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