A man set fire to several pages of the Holy Quran outside Stockholm’s main mosque on Wednesday, after Swedish police granted a permit for the protest which coincided with the start of Eidul Azha.

The police said in its written decision that the security risks associated with the burning “were not of a nature that could justify, under current laws, a decision to reject the request”.

Salwan Momika, 37, who fled from Iraq to Sweden several years ago, had asked police for permission to commit the act “to express my opinion about the Quran”.

Ahead of the protest, Momika told news agency TT he also wanted to highlight the importance of freedom of speech.

“This is democracy. It is in danger if they tell us we can’t do this,” Momika said.

Under a heavy police presence and with around a dozen opponents shouting at him in Arabic, Momika, dressed in beige trousers and a shirt, addressed the crowd of several dozen through a megaphone.

At various times, he stomped on the Holy Quran and lit a few pages on fire while waving Swedish flags, AFP correspondents at the scene reported.

Police had cordoned off an area in a park next to the mosque separating Momika and a co-protester from the crowd.

Meanwhile, representatives of the mosque were disappointed by the police decision to grant permission for the protest on the Muslim holiday of Eidul Azha, mosque director and Imam Mahmoud Khalfi said.

“The mosque suggested to the police to at least divert the demonstration to another location, which is possible by law, but they chose not to do so,” Khalfi said in a statement.

‘Not okay’

Noa Omran, a 32-year-old artist from Stockholm, called the protest “absolutely insane”.

“It’s just hatred masquerading in the name of democracy and freedom which it isn’t,” the woman, who said her mother was from a Muslim background, told AFP at the scene.

Social worker Lotta Jahn, 43, also said the burning should not be tolerated.

“We just have to say stop. It’s not okay to humiliate other people,” she said.

The police authorisation for the protest came two weeks after a Swedish appeals court rejected the police’s decision to deny permits for two demonstrations in Stockholm which were to include the burning of copies of the Holy Quran.

Police had at the time cited security concerns, following a burning of the holy book outside Turkey’s embassy in January which led to weeks of protests, calls for a boycott of Swedish goods and further stalled Sweden’s Nato membership bid.

Similar acts have in the past sparked violent protests and outrage across the Muslim world.

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

Turkiye, which has blocked the country’s Nato bid due to what it perceives as Stockholm’s failure to crack down on Kurdish groups it considers “terrorists”, took particular offence that police had authorised the January demonstration.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan condemned the desecration of the Holy Quran on Wednesday as well.

After Turkiye’s move in January, Swedish police banned two subsequent requests for protests involving the burning of the Holy Quran — one by Momika and one by an organisation, outside the Turkish and Iraqi embassies in Stockholm in February.

The appeals court in mid-June ruled that police were wrong to ban those, saying the security concerns cited by police were not sufficient to ban the events.

‘Don’t intend to sabotage Nato bid’

Momika had said he would seek to burn the Holy Quran again after his previous request was blocked.

Speaking to newspaper Aftonbladet in April, Momika — who fled to Sweden from Iraq — said his intention was not to sabotage the Swedish Nato bid and had considered waiting to stage his protest until after Sweden had joined the alliance.

“I don’t want to harm this country that received me and preserved my dignity,” Momika told the newspaper.

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

Paludan also provoked rioting in Sweden last year when he went on a tour of the country and publicly burned copies of the Holy Quran.

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