Ankara: Protesters chant slogans against Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan during a demonstration outside Sweden’s embassy on Saturday.—AFP
Ankara: Protesters chant slogans against Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan during a demonstration outside Sweden’s embassy on Saturday.—AFP

ISTANBUL: Turkiye on Saturday cancelled a visit by the Swedish defence minister over a demonstration by an anti-Islamic extremist in Stockholm, sparking a fresh crisis over Ankara’s blocking of Sweden’s bid to join the Nato military alliance.

Turkish officials denounced the permission granted to Rasmus Paludan, a right-wing Swedish-Danish politician, to stage a protest in front of its embassy in the Swedish capital.

After a diatribe of almost an hour in which he attacked Islam and immigration in Sweden, Paludan set fire to the Holy Quran with a lighter. “If you don’t think there should be freedom of expression, you have to live somewhere else,” he told the crowd.

A day after summoning the Swedish ambassador over Paludan’s latest demo, Ankara said it had called off the visit by Defence Minister Pal Jonson for Jan 27, aimed at overcoming Turkiye’s objections to Sweden’s Nato bid. The meeting “has lost its significance and meaning, so we cancelled,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said.

Pakistan condemns abhorrent act of desecration of the Holy Quran

Joint decision

Jonson said the decision to postpone the visit was made jointly with Akar on Friday at the US military base in Ramstein, Germany, where Ukraine’s allies were meeting to discuss further weapon supplies for Kyiv.

“Our relations with Turkiye are very important to Sweden, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue on common security and defence issues at a later date,” Jonson tweeted. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom also blasted Paludan’s protest.

“Islamophobic provocations are appalling,” he said. “Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not imply that the Swedish government, or myself, support the opinions expressed.” Paludan’s protest was held under heavy police protection with around 100 people — including a large number of reporters — gathered near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu vented fury at Swedish authorities’ failure to ban the protest. “It’s a racist action, it’s not about freedom of expression,” he said.

A small pro-Turkey demonstration also took place, on the other side of the embassy, while a pro-Kurdish rally called by the Rojava Committee of Sweden and others also took place in Stockholm, drawing several hundred people.

Swedish police gave their authorisation for the anti-Islam demo after determining it fell under the country’s liberal freedom of speech laws. But Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said allowing the protest was “encouraging hate crimes and Islamophobia”.

“The attack on sacred values is not freedom but modern barbarism,” he tweeted on Saturday. Devlet Bahceli, head of the nationalist MHP party that is the junior partner in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing coalition, vowed that “Sweden’s Nato membership will not be approved by the parliament”.

FO statement

Pakistan also strongly condemned the abhorrent act of desecration of the Holy Quran in Sweden on Saturday.

A statement issued by the Foreign Office said this ‘senseless and provocative Islamophobic act’ hurts the religious sensitivities of over 1.5 billion Muslims across the world.

Such actions are not covered under any legitimate expression of the right to freedom of expression or opinion, which carries responsibilities under international human rights law, such as the obligation not to carry out hate speech and incite people to violence, the statement said.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2023

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