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When does a Quran burning qualify as a hate crime in Sweden?

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
When does a Quran burning qualify as a hate crime in Sweden?
Qurans on a bookshelf at the mosque in Nacka in 2010. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix/TT

A man was found guilty of agitation against an ethnic group in October 2023 after setting fire to a Quran back in 2020. Why was he convicted, when some other Quran burnings have not even gone to trial?


Quran burnings have become a hot topic in Sweden in the past year, after a spate of incidents sparked fury in several Muslim countries and put Sweden’s Nato application at risk. Police have little power to prevent protests featuring Quran burnings due to Sweden’s strong freedom of speech laws, but setting a religious text on fire could in some cases be prosecuted under hate crime laws.

When does a Quran burning qualify as a hate crime?

It's a bit of a grey area. Essentially, it boils down to the context around the Quran burning and whether it is directed at a religion in general (not necessarily a hate crime), or directed at people who practise that religion (potentially a hate crime).

In the autumn of 2023, a 27-year-old man went on trial at Linköping District Court, accused of creating and sharing a video online in which a Quran was set on fire, featuring music linked to the attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.

This was the first time a case involving the burning of a Quran was tried in a Swedish court.

The man filmed himself burning a copy of the Quran on a barbecue alongside bacon – eating pork is forbidden in Islam. He then filmed himself leaving the burned Quran and the bacon outside a mosque in Linköping in September 2020.

Underneath the barbecue he had placed signs reading "Muhammed was a paedophile" and "No to Islam".

A video of the event was later spread on social media, where it was paired with music popular in far-right groups, which was also played by the perpetrator of the Christchurch mosque attack during his attack in 2019, where 51 people were killed and at least 50 more were injured.


This context was enough for the Quran burning in question to be classified as a hate crime, according to Linköping District Court, which on October 12th found the man guilty of agitation against an ethnic group. The context, it said, showed that the video was meant to target Muslims, and not Islam as a religion. In short, it wasn't just the Quran burning that made it a crime, but the other context around it.

"The court's assessment is that the chosen music to a video with [this] content, can't be perceived in any other way than as a threat against Muslims alluding to their faith. The other parts of the video can in context not be perceived in any other way than as an expression of disrespect," said the court in a statement.

"The video was published anonymously via, among other things, a Twitter account. It was not a question of an ongoing debate at a meeting where the statement could immediately be countered. The video's content and choice of publication channels can hardly be said to have invited to a factual and valid discussion," said the court.

The man's lawyer said that they would appeal the verdict.


Why aren't Salwan Momika and Rasmus Paludan being investigated for committing hate crimes?

They are.

Both Rasmus Paludan and Salwan Momika – the two far-right activists most well known for burning Qurans in Sweden in the past year – are being investigated for possible hate crimes.

One of Paludan's Quran burnings, which took place on March 27th, 2023, outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, was reported to police as a hate crime, but was dismissed by prosecutors as not qualifying.

However, another of his Quran-burning events which took place in Malmö – a city with a large Muslim population – on April 16th, 2022, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is currently being investigated by prosecutors as a potential hate crime.

He has been called in for questioning in Malmö, but has refused to travel from Denmark to Sweden due to security concerns, Dagens Nyheter reports.

Momika, on the other hand, is being investigated on suspicion of hate crimes for burning a Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm this summer during the Eid al-Adha holiday.

At the same event, according to a report seen by TV4, he filled the Quran with bacon before it was set alight, said he wanted those watching the protest to die and called them terrorists. He also allegedly called the prophet Muhammad a paedophile, murderer and "other insults".


Why do the police allow Quran burnings if they could be hate crimes?

It’s because they have to.

The Public Order Act says that the police are only allowed to refuse a permit for a demonstration if it is "necessary to do so with respect to public order or safety at the gathering or, as a direct consequence of the gathering, in its immediate surroundings".

This means that they cannot refuse a permit even if somebody says they are going to do something illegal, as long as it doesn't endanger anyone. Here's an example: Momika set a Quran alight during Stockholm's fire ban earlier this summer, and was warned by police when he applied for his permit that by burning a Quran he would be breaking the law by ignoring the fire ban.

This didn't give police the power to stop his protest though, as freedoms of assembly, demonstration and association are all so strongly protected in Swedish law.

The police are not able to reject a permit application due to the theoretical risk of riots breaking out, either, due to the "direct consequence" part of the law. As these freedoms all enjoy strong constitutional protections, the police have to be able to show that there’s a concrete security threat directly related to a specific Quran burning.


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