21st Sep 2023

Security controls reinforced in Sweden after Koran burning

  • In response to the recent protests involving Koran burning, Muslim users have initiated online campaigns urging others to boycott Swedish products (Photo: collective nouns)
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In the wake of recent protests involving Koran burnings in the streets of Denmark and Sweden, Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson announced on Tuesday (1 August) that his government will boost border and internal security controls and give police more power to stop and search people.

The Scandinavian countries are at the centre of a heated debate over religious sensitivities and freedom of expression which have sparked concerns over the potential risks to national security.

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"Everything that is legal is not appropriate. It can be awful but still lawful," Kristersson told the press while announcing the strengthening of security measures. "We try to promote a respectful tone between countries and peoples".

Following an extraordinary session on Monday, the inter-governmental Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) warned that burning copies of the Koran could "aggravate intolerance and discrimination" against Muslims — and urged appropriate action to stop acts of religious hatred.

Despite calls to change freedom of speech laws and ban the burning of holy books, Kristersson said that such developments were not currently under consideration.

He warned, however, that police could stop such actions in public if they pose a threat to national security. He urged citizens to act responsibly, pointing out that with "a great degree of freedom comes a great degree of responsibility".

"It is not the case that Sweden is adapting itself in the light of other countries' demands on Sweden," he said, pointing out the noticeable differences between some Muslim countries and Sweden regarding human rights, including freedom of speech.

On Monday, Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billstrom said that he had sent a letter to the OIC foreign ministers explaining the legal base of the right of assembly in his country and condemning the Islamophobic acts.

The European Union, for its part, also reacted to the news arguing that "not everything that is legal is ethical".

"We are totally rejecting the burning of holy books and of the Koran," said a commission spokesperson on Tuesday. "The burnings are offensive. They're reckless acts committed by few individuals, and they do not represent the values that the EU is built on".

The EU executive has also defended freedom of expression in the EU and abroad, arguing that freedom of speech and freedom of religion can go hand in hand.

"By no means do we believe that freedom of religion or belief or freedom of expression would lead to incitement of hatred or intolerance," the spokesperson said.

The EU Commission also said that they are in contact with the OIC to understand the "next steps" on this issue — and are ready to collaborate. But when asked about OIC's following steps, the spokesperson failed to clarify.

On Sunday, Kristersson said in a statement that the country faces "the most serious security situation since the Second World War" while noting that foreign actors are "actively" exploiting the current situation.

Meanwhile, several Muslim users have launched online campaigns to boycott Swedish products.

Earlier this week, Danish foreign minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said that his country is trying to de-escalate the situation. "We shouldn't just sit and wait for this to explode," he said.

The Danish government is exploring a "legal tool" that would allow authorities to intervene in protests that can pose "negative consequences for Denmark, not least with regard to security," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

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