This month was a bitter day for Sweden, because just under a year ago it had applied together with Finland NATO membership. Everything initially went according to plan, with 28 of the 30 member countries ratifying the two applications. But then Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made unacceptable demands for Sweden, including demanding the extradition of Swedish citizens he believes are terrorists. To make matters worse, in January pro-Kurdish protesters hung an Erdogan doll by its feet and Danish-Swedish right-wing extremist Rasmus Paludan burned a Koran in Stockholm. After this action in front of the Turkish embassy, Ankara broke off talks with Sweden.
And so only the Finnish flag was hoisted in front of the NATO headquarters in Brussels. Sweden must continue to worry about its acceptance into the defense alliance, especially since Viktor Orbán is still cooking his political soup in Budapest. Even when asked repeatedly by the Swedish government, he could not really explain why Hungary had so far refused to sign the application from Stockholm, but Finland was waved through.
On the day Finland became a new member of the defense alliance – without its neighbour – a Swedish judge read out a verdict that not only points the way legally, but can also be a harbinger of the Scandinavian country’s (non-) future in NATO : Burning of the Quran is still allowed in Sweden.
After Paludan’s action there had been large anti-Swedish demonstrations in the Muslim world. Extremist websites openly called for attacks, so that the Swedish state security agency Säpo soon spoke of an increased threat of terrorism. When a small Stockholm organization and a private individual wanted to register more Quran burnings in February, the police prohibited both actions, citing the increased threat of terrorism.
But that, according to the verdict, was unconstitutional. In the verdict, the administrative judge emphasized that the freedom of assembly and demonstration are constitutionally protected rights in Sweden. The general threat situation is not sufficient as a reason to ban the demonstrations.
One of the two applicants told Swedish media that he was “happy and grateful” about the verdict. He, who comes from Iraq, emphasized that he didn’t want to damage the NATO proposal with his action: “It’s not about NATO for me, it’s about criticizing the Quran, which I think should be banned worldwide, not just in Sweden.”
The small organization Liberty Apallarkerna, on the other hand, which submitted the second application, deliberately aims to prevent accession with its action. The chairman of the association declared that there would be no incineration: “It was never our goal, we find it barbaric to burn books. We will present the verdict to the Turkish embassy and hand it over with the request that President Erdogan keeps his word not to let Sweden into NATO if the burning of the Quran is allowed,” he said.
The Turkish foreign minister immediately reacted very vehemently and polemically to the verdict, drawing parallels between Nazi Germany and Sweden at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels: “The Nazis started burning books, then they attacked religious gathering places, and then they gathered people in camps and burned them to reach their final destinations. That’s how things like this start,” he said, according to Turkish media.
As for the heightened threat of terrorism in Sweden, the Swedish police also said they had temporarily detained five young men suspected of plotting an attack in Eskilstuna, Linköping and Strängnäs. The police said they weren’t assuming an imminent attack, but had “reasonable suspicions,” especially since the five men were linked to international Islamist groups.
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