STOCKHOLM (AP) – A series of public desecrations of the Quran by a handful of anti-Islamic activists in Sweden has sparked an angry reaction in Muslim countries and raised questions – including in Sweden – about why such acts are allowed.
In the latest such incident, an Iraqi living in Sweden on Thursday smashed Islam’s holy book and kicked two men in a rally outside the Iraqi Embassy in Stockholm. The protest was authorized by Swedish police, who kept a handful of agitated counter-demonstrators at a safe distance.
The same Iraqi man burned a Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm last month in a similar police-sanctioned protest. And at the beginning of the year, a Danish far-right activist performed a similar stunt outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm.
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Stockholm police say they have authorized a protest this weekend by a man who said he wants to burn the Torah and Bible outside the Israeli Embassy in the Swedish capital.
Here’s a look at how the Swedish authorities have been dealing with these actions.
IS THE QURAN ALLOWED IN SWEDEN TO RETURN?
There is no law in Sweden that specifically prohibits him or the desecration of the Quran or other religious texts. Like many Western countries, Sweden has no blasphemy laws.
It wasn’t always like that. As late as the 19th century, blasphemy was considered a serious crime in Sweden, punishable by death. But the blasphemy laws were gradually relaxed as Sweden became more secularized. The last such law was taken off the books in 1970.
CAN THE SWEDISH AUTHORITIES STOP SUCH ACTIONS?
Many Muslim countries have asked the Swedish government to stop protesters from burning the Quran. But in Sweden it is up to the police, not the government, to decide whether to authorize demonstrations or public meetings.
Freedom of speech is protected under the Swedish constitution. The police must cite specific grounds for refusing permission for a demonstration or public meeting, such as risks to public safety.
Stockholm police did so in February when they denied two requests by protesters to burn the Quran, citing assessments by the Swedish Security Service that such actions could increase the risk of terrorist attacks against Sweden. But a court later overturned those decisions, saying the police must cite more concrete threats to prevent a public gathering.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN A CURRENT DRUG GROWN FROM THE CORONA?
Sweden’s hate speech law prohibits incitement against groups of people based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Some say that burning the Quran is incitement against Muslims and should be considered hate speech. Others say that such actions are aimed at the religion of Islam rather than the faith’s practitioners, and that criticism of the religion must be covered by freedom of speech, even when some consider it offensive.
Seeking guidance from the justice system, Swedish police have filed preliminary hate crime charges against the man who burned the Quran outside a Stockholm mosque in June and defaced Islam’s holy book again on Thursday. It is now up to prosecutors to decide whether to formally indict him.
ARE THE AUTHORITIES OF SWEDEN MUSLIMS AND THE QURAN?
Some Muslims in Sweden who were deeply hurt by the recent Quran burnings questioned whether the Swedish police would allow the expulsion of holy books from other religions.
One Muslim man seems to have decided to test that and applied for a permit to hold a protest last Saturday outside the Israeli Embassy where he said he intended to burn the Torah and the Bible.
Although Israeli government officials and Jewish groups criticized the proposed act and asked the Swedish authorities to stop it, the police approved the man’s request. However, when he was on the scene, the man supported his plans, saying that he was against burning all religious books as a Muslim.
HOW IS GALAIS CALLED IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD?
The devil is criminalized in many countries. A Pew Research Center analysis found that 79 of the 198 countries and territories studied had laws or policies on the books in 2019 that prohibited blasphemy, which is defined as “speech or actions considered contemptuous of God or people or things considered sacred.” In at least seven countries – Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – he faced a potential death sentence.
In the Middle East and North Africa, 18 of the 20 countries studied had laws that criminalized blasphemy, although in most cases it was not punishable by death.
In Iraq, publicly insulting a sacred symbol or person revered by a religious sect is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.
Similarly in religiously diverse Lebanon, where sectarian division helped fuel a brutal 15-year civil war from 1979 to 1990, any act “intended or caused” to incite “sectarian strife” is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.
___ Associated Press writer Abby Sewell in Beirut, Lebanon, contributed to this report.