International reactions after protester sets Quran on fire in Stockholm

AFP/The Local
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International reactions after protester sets Quran on fire in Stockholm
Salwan Momika arriving at his Quran burning demonstration. He is now being investigated for alleged hate crimes and breaking Stockholm's fire ban. Photo: Stefan Jerrevång/TT

Just days ahead of a key Nato meeting between Sweden and Turkey, the latter condemned a protest at which an Iraqi man set fire to pages of the Quran outside Stockholm's main mosque.


Swedish police had granted a permit for the protest in line with free-speech protections but also opened an investigation into the man, originally from Iraq, for "agitation against an ethnic group".

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."

Turkey is blocking Sweden's Nato membership bid due to what it perceives as Stockholm's failure to crack down on Kurdish groups it considers "terrorists," and took particular offence at another Quran burning outside its Stockholm embassy in January.

A meeting between the countries' top diplomats is scheduled for July 6th at the Nato headquarters in Brussels, with Nato counterparts pushing for Turkey to grant the green light to Sweden by the time the summit takes place in Lithuania on July 11th-12th.


In its written decision granting a permit for the protest, Stockholm police said the security risks associated with the burning "were not of a nature that could justify, under current laws, a decision to reject the request".


'Express my opinion'

Salwan Momika, 37, who fled to Sweden several years ago, had asked police for permission to burn the holy book "to express my opinion about the Quran".

Ahead of the protest, Momika told news agency TT he also wanted to highlight the importance of freedom of speech.

"This is democracy. It is in danger if they tell us we can't do this," Momika said.

Under a heavy police presence and with around a dozen opponents shouting at him in Arabic, Momika, dressed in beige trousers and a shirt, addressed the crowd of several dozen through a megaphone.

He stomped on the Quran and put on it strips of bacon, which is forbidden in Islam. He then lit a few pages on fire before slamming it shut and kicked it like a football while waving Swedish flags, AFP correspondents at the scene reported.


Police had cordoned off an area in a park next to the mosque separating Momika and a co-protester from the crowd.

Police later said in a statement that the protest had not caused "disturbances to order," but added that an investigation had been opened regarding "agitation against an ethnic group" because Momika had chosen to burn the Quran so close to a mosque.

Police added he was also being investigated for violating a temporary ban on lighting fires -- in place due to a heatwave.

Noa Omran, a 32-year-old artist from Stockholm, called the protest "absolutely insane".

"It's just hatred masquerading in the name of democracy and freedom, which it isn't," the woman, who said her mother was from a Muslim background, told AFP at the scene.

Backlash in Muslim world

The police authorisation for the protest came two weeks after a Swedish appeals court rejected the police's decision to deny permits for two demonstrations in Stockholm which were to include Quran burnings.

Police had at the time cited security concerns, following the January protest which led to weeks of demonstrations and calls for a boycott of Swedish goods.

Similar acts have in the past sparked violent protests and outrage across the Muslim world.

The United States, the largest power in Nato, joined criticism of the Quran burning but reiterated its support for Sweden's entrance into the alliance.

"We've said consistently that the burning of religious texts is disrespectful and hurtful and what might be legal is certainly not necessarily appropriate," State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters in Washington.

"We continue to believe that Sweden should become a Nato member as soon as possible," he said, calling the country a "strong, capable defence partner that shares Nato's values."

Morocco recalled its ambassador to Sweden in response to Wednesday's Quran burning.

Speaking to newspaper Aftonbladet in April, Momika said his intention was not to sabotage Sweden's Nato bid and that he had considered waiting to stage his protest until after the country had joined the alliance.

"I don't want to harm this country that received me and preserved my dignity," Momika told the newspaper.


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