Swedish PM accuses Russia of inflaming Quran-burning crisis

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Swedish PM accuses Russia of inflaming Quran-burning crisis
Sweden's Civil Defence Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin and Mikael Östlund, communications chief at the Psychological Defence Agency, hold a joint press conference on Russia's role in the Quran crisis. Photo: Mickan Palmqvist/TT

Sweden's Prime Minister warned on Wednesday that his country was being targeted by disinformation campaigns that seek to capitalise on the anger sparked by protests involving desecrations of the Quran.


"Sweden is right now the target of influence campaigns, supported by states and state-like actors, whose purpose is to harm Sweden and Swedish interests," Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in a social media post.

The head of government said in a message on Instagram that recent "burnings of copies of religious texts" coincide with a difficult "security policy situation."

"These events are then retold in an inaccurate way, sometimes with direct calls to hurt our country," he continued.

In a separate statement, Minister for Civil Defence Carl-Oskar Bohlin also warned of an increased spread of disinformation against Sweden.

"There is a risk that the current disinformation campaigns against Sweden could jeopardise the situation of Swedish citizens and companies abroad, and pose a threat to national security," Bohlin said.

Mikael Östlund, head of communication at Sweden's Psychological Defence Agency, said that his agency had recorded at least a million publication's connected to Sweden since the most recent publication on June 28th alone. 


"Russia is using these events to drive its agenda in the media and in the channels it controls, and the message is obviously to split us in the west and also to create an increased anxiety and polarisation here in Sweden," he said. "An obvious ambition from the Russian side is of course to make it more difficult for Sweden to join Nato." 

Tensions have flared between Sweden and several Middle Eastern nations after an Iraqi refugee staged two protests in which he desecrated the Quran. In late June, Salwan Momika, 37, set pages of the Muslim holy text alight outside Stockholm's main mosque.

Last week he staged a similar protest outside Iraq's embassy, stomping on the Quran but leaving before burning it.

Sweden's government has condemned the desecrations, while stressing the country's constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and assembly. Sweden and other European countries have previously seen protests where far-right and other activists, citing free speech protections, damage or destroy religious symbols or books, often sparking protests.

Advance news of the planned Stockholm protest had prompted hundreds of Iraqis to mass at Sweden's Baghdad embassy the night before -- as they did in response to June's Quran burning -- before scaling the walls and torching buildings.


The events have raised diplomatic tensions throughout the Middle East, with Swedish envoys summoned in Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

Sweden's ambassador has been expelled from Iraq, while Iran said it would not allow a new Swedish ambassador into the country, after repeated protests at embassies in both Baghdad and Tehran.

Abandoning centuries of military non-alignment, Sweden decided to apply for Nato membership in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but its membership is still awaiting ratification by Hungary and Turkey.



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