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Swedish police appeal court ruling allowing Koran burning protests

Swedish police said Thursday they had appealed a court ruling which overturned a police decision to block two gatherings where protesters had planned to burn the Koran.

Stockholm
Swedish politicians have criticised the Koran burning, but have also adamantly defended the right to freedom of expression. Photo by Hongbin on Unsplash

“The Police Authority believes that the principles of the issue are important and it is therefore urgent that it is examined by a higher court,” police said in a statement.

The burning of Islam’s holy book outside Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm in January sparked anger in the Muslim world, leading to weeks of protests, calls for a boycott of Swedish goods, and holding up Sweden’s NATO membership bid.

Stockholm police then refused to grant permission for two subsequent similar protests planned for February, citing security concerns.

But in a ruling on Tuesday the Stockholm Administrative Court overturned the decision, saying the cited security risk concerns were not enough to limit the right to demonstrate.

The “police authority did not have sufficient support for its decisions,” judge Eva-Lotta Hedin said.

On Thursday, the police authority said that the appeals had been filed and that it requested to have until April 25 to “elaborate the authority’s case.”

Swedish police had authorised the January protest organised by Rasmus Paludan, a Swedish-Danish activist who has already been convicted for racist abuse.

Riots in Sweden

Paludan also provoked rioting in Sweden last year when he went on a tour of the country and publicly burned copies of Islam’s holy book.

The January Koran burning also damaged Sweden’s relations with Turkey, which took particular offence that police had authorised the demonstration.

Ankara has blocked Sweden’s NATO bid because of what it perceives as Stockholm’s failure to crack down on Kurdish groups it views as “terrorists.”

“It is clear that those who caused such a disgrace in front of our country’s embassy can no longer expect any benevolence from us regarding their application for NATO membership,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in January.

Police then refused to authorise two other requests, one by a private individual and one by an organisation, to hold Koran burnings outside the Turkish and Iraqi embassies in Stockholm in February.

Police argued that the January protest had made Sweden “a higher priority target for attacks”.

Swedish politicians have criticised the Koran burning, but have also adamantly defended the right to freedom of expression.

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INSIDE SWEDEN

Inside Sweden: Why troll factory won’t spark a government crisis

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren rounds up the biggest stories of the week in our Inside Sweden newsletter.

Inside Sweden: Why troll factory won't spark a government crisis

Hej,

News that the Sweden Democrats are operating a far-right troll factory – which among other things the party uses to smear political opponents as well as its supposed allies – has caused probably the biggest rift yet between them and the three other parties that make up Sweden’s ruling coalition.

The leaders of the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals all strongly criticised the Sweden Democrats’ blatant violation of the so-called “respect clause” in their Tidö collaboration agreement – the clause that states that the four parties should speak respectfully of each other in the media.

But after crisis talks held on Thursday, the conflict appears to be dying down.

The Sweden Democrats hit out strongly at the TV4 Kalla Fakta documentary where the troll factory was revealed, calling it a smear campaign and disinformation, but simultaneously went as far as to confirm that they do run anonymous social media accounts for which they refused to apologise.

They did say sorry to the Tidö parties for including them in the smear campaigns, and promised to remove some of the posts that had offended the other three parties, plus reassign a couple of members of staff to other duties until they’ve been given training on the Tidö “respect clause”.

But that doesn’t remove the fact that they vowed to continue the anonymous social media accounts whose existence they had prior to the documentary consistently denied, or the fact that some of the social media posts shared not only vague anti-immigration content, but white power propaganda.

The Liberals took the row the furthest, with Liberal leader Johan Pehrson describing people in his party as skitförbannade – pissed off as hell. He said ahead of the crisis meeting that they would demand that the Sweden Democrats cease all anonymous posting, which the latter rejected.

The party had two choices: walk out of the government collaboration and possibly spark a snap election, or walk back its strong words ahead of the meeting and wait for it to blow over.

They chose a kind of middle way, and called for an inquiry to be launched into banning political parties from operating anonymous social media accounts. The Social Democrats immediately accused the Liberals of trying to “bury the issue in an inquiry” – a classic Swedish political method of indecisive conflict avoidance which the Social Democrats themselves are well familiar with.

The Christian Democrats and Moderates both said that the Sweden Democrats had accepted their criticism and welcomed the party’s reshuffling of staff within its communications department, adding that it still had to prove its commitment to the Tidö agreement going forward.

So why isn’t this causing a bigger government crisis?

We asked Evelyn Jones, a politics reporter for the Dagens Nyheter daily, to come on the Sweden in Focus podcast to explain it to us:

“The Sweden Democrats are the biggest party in this coalition, even though they’re not part of the government. So the government really needs them. It’s hard for them to just stop cooperating with the Sweden Democrats,” she said.

“The cooperation between the government parties and the Sweden Democrats has been going pretty smoothly since the last election – more smoothly than a lot of people thought. This is probably the biggest crisis so far, but how big it is, is hard to say.”

You can listen to the full interview with her and the rest of the Sweden in Focus podcast here

In other news

If you are a descendant of a Sweden-born person and would like to find out more about them, there are ways to do that. I wrote this week about how to research your Swedish ancestry.

That guide was prompted by my interview with the chair of a community history group in a small parish in north-central Sweden, which has tried to get to the bottom of rumours that US mega star Taylor Swift’s ancestors hail from their village. I had so much fun writing this article.

The EU elections will be held on June 9th, but advance voting begins next week in Sweden. And poll cards are already being sent out, so if you’re eligible to vote you should receive yours soon.

Sweden’s consumer price index fell to 3.9 percent in April, below 4.0 percent for the first time in two years, reinforcing predictions that the central bank will keep lowering interest rates.

Sweden’s four-party government bloc has broken with the other parties in a parliamentary committee on public service broadcasting, adding what the opposition complains are “radically changed” proposals. How shocking are they?

Many people move to Sweden because of their partner’s career. Perhaps you’re one of these so-called “trailing spouses”. I’ve been asking readers in this situation how they’re settling in, and will have an article for you next week. There’s still time to answer our survey to share your experience.

Thanks for reading.

Have a good weekend,

Emma

Inside Sweden is our weekly newsletter for members which gives you news, analysis and, sometimes, takes you behind the scenes at The Local. It’s published each Saturday and with Membership+ you can also receive it directly to your inbox.

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