Turkiye condemned the Swedish authorities’ decision to approve a small Koran-burning demonstration outside a mosque in Stockholm on Wednesday, a move that may jeopardize Sweden’s bid to join NATO ahead of the bloc’s key summit in July.
Only one person participated in the planned burning of the Koran in the Swedish capital and footage of the event shows that he was the only person besides his translator at the demonstration, which coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha, one of the more important. important in the Islamic calendar.
The decision to allow the protest was made in accordance with the right to freedom of expression, Swedish police said, adding that the demonstration does not pose an immediate security risk.
But allowing such an incendiary protest provoked a backlash in Turkiye, a NATO member state that has obstructed Sweden’s accession bid. Sweden and neighboring Finland formally applied to join the bloc after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Turkiye’s foreign minister condemned the protest on Wednesday, calling it an “heinous act.”
“It is unacceptable to allow these anti-Islamic actions under the pretext of free speech. To turn a blind eye to such heinous acts is to be complicit in them,” Hakan Fidan said in a statement.
Turkish government Communications Director Fahrettin Altun added in a tweet: “We are fed up with allowing Islamophobia and continued cases of hatred towards our religion by European authorities, especially in Sweden.”
“Those seeking to become our NATO allies cannot tolerate or allow destructive behavior by Islamophobic and xenophobic terrorists,” he said.
NATO officials hope to avoid the embarrassment of seeing the alliance miss its own stated goal of admitting Sweden to the alliance by July 11, the date of its next official summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. Officials fear that missing this deadline will send a humiliating and potentially dangerous message to the alliance’s adversaries.
Turkiye, a strategically important NATO member due to its geographical location in both the Middle East and Europe, and the alliance’s second-largest military power, has proven to be Sweden’s biggest obstacle to NATO membership.
Earlier this year, Turkish-Swedish relations suffered a severe blow after a demonstration outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm during which an anti-immigration politician set fire to a copy of the Koran.
The incident sparked anger in the Turkish capital, Ankara, where protesters took to the streets and burned the Swedish flag in front of the Swedish embassy in response.
At the time, Turkey’s then foreign minister allegedly blamed the Swedish government, saying it had “participated in this crime by allowing this vile act” to go ahead, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
An Eastern European diplomat told CNN that in addition to “emboldening the enemies” of NATO, any delay in Sweden’s entry risks “giving a sense of Erdogan’s power over the alliance.” The diplomat added that “Erdogan will seize the moment to squeeze every drop out of this situation and throw the ball at Sweden, making them hostages to their (own) anti-terror laws.”
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Sweden has met the necessary requirements set by Turkiye to join NATO, including introducing a new anti-terror law.
“New legislation recently came into force in Sweden that makes it illegal to participate in a terrorist organization in any way that promotes, strengthens or supports it. Therefore, we are complying with the last parts of our agreement,” Billstrom said.
But the decision to allow a Koran burning protest may further damage Sweden’s relations with Turkiye and dent the country’s hopes of joining NATO.
Freedom of expression
Speaking to CNN by phone on Wednesday, protester Salwan Momika said he came to Sweden five years ago from Iraq and has Swedish citizenship. He told CNN that he identifies as an atheist.
He said he was making this demonstration after three months of legal battles in the courts.
“This book should be banned in the world because of the danger it represents for democracy, ethics, human values, human rights and women’s rights. It just doesn’t work in this time and age,” she said.
A police permit obtained by CNN states that “the security risks and consequences related to the burning of the Qur’an are not of such a nature that, under current law, they could be the basis for a decision to deny a request for a meeting.” general”.
The permit for the demonstration says that Quran burnings “signify an increased risk of a terrorist attack” and “may also have foreign policy consequences.”
However, he added that for “security concerns to be the basis of a decision to reject a general assembly, they must have a clear connection to the intended meeting or its immediate environment.”
Authorities granted permission for the gathering under certain conditions, including the fire ban in force in Stockholm since June 12, which “applies until further notice.”
Speaking to CNN by phone, Stockholm police spokeswoman Helena Bostrom Thomas said the police had told the applicant to find out about those restrictions, but added that “freedom of expression outweighs whether it goes against the fire ban restrictions.