STOCKHOLM: Swedish police on Friday said they had granted a permit for a protest which would include burning holy texts outside the Israeli embassy in Stockholm, sparking condemnation from Israel and Jewish organisations.

The controversial protest, scheduled for Saturday, comes weeks after a man set fire to pages of the Holy Quran outside Stockholm’s main mosque — leading to widespread outrage and condemnations around the world.

The demonstration would include burning of the Torah and the Bible, was in response to the Holy Quran burning protest and would be an expression in support of freedom of speech, according to the application to police.

Stockholm police stressed that in line with Swedish legislation they granted permits for people to hold public gatherings and not for the activities conducted during them.

‘Antisemitic’ move sparks condemnation from Israel, Jewish organisations

“The police do not issue permits to burn various religious texts — the police issue permits to hold a public gathering and express an opinion,” said Carina Skagerlind, press officer for Stockholm police. “An important distinction,” she added.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog was one of several Israeli representatives and Jewish organisations to immediately condemn the decision. “I unequivocally condemn the permission granted in Sweden to burn holy books,” Herzog said in a statement.

“I condemned the burning of the [Holy] Quran, sacred to Muslims world over, and I am now heartbroken that the same fate awaits a Jewish Bible, the eternal book of the Jewish people,” the head of state added.

Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organisation, said in a statement that granting the permit was “not freedom of expression but Antisemitism”.

In June, Swedish police had granted a permit for 37-year-old Salwan Momika’s protest where he stomped on the Holy Quran and set several pages alight.

The permit was granted in line with free speech protections, but authorities later said they had opened an investigation over “agitation against an ethnic group”, noting that Momika had burnt pages from the Islamic holy book very close to the mosque.

Countries including Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco summoned Swedish ambassadors in protest at the Holy Quran burning incident, which led to an emergency meeting of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Sweden’s government also condemned the burning as “Islam­ophobic”, while noting that the country had a “constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, expression and demonstration”.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2023

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