ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has condemned Swedish authorities for permitting the desecration of Torah and Bible, calling the action “a disgrace to Sweden”.

The protest, which has now been cancelled, was allowed by Swedish police on Friday after a man sought permission to burn religious books outside the Israeli embassy in Stockholm.

“Offensive acts of religious hatred cannot be condoned in the guise of freedom of expression and opinion”, Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a statement on Saturday.

The statement said as a religion of peace, Islam called for respecting all religions, sacred personalities and holy scriptures.

Swedish man calls off protests, says his intention was to criticise the act of burning holy books

In line with Islamic ethos, Pakistan has always stressed the need to advance mutual respect, harmony and peaceful coexistence among religions, faiths, and cultures, Ms Baloch said.

“We call on the international community to condemn, with one voice, all such abhorrent acts of religious hatred, which hurt the sentiments of its followers and constitute deliberate incitement.”

She added that these actions, based on contorted and specious free speech arguments, were “a disgrace to Sweden and any democratic government worthy of the name should prevent it.”

Protest called off

The decision to allow 32-year-old Ahmad A. to burn Torah and Bible also sparked condemnation from Israel and global Jewish organisations, AFP has reported.

The protester on Saturday said he was not going to go ahead with his protest.

He explained his intention was not to burn holy scriptures but to criticise the people who have burnt the Holy Quran in Sweden in recent months, something that Swedish law does not prohibit.

“This is a response to the people who burn the Holy Quran. I want to show that freedom of expression has limits that must be taken into account”, explained the Swedish resident of Syrian origin.

“I want to show that we have to respect each other, we live in the same society. If I burn the Torah, another the Bible, another the Holy Quran, there will be war here. What I wanted to show is that it’s not right to do it,” he added.

In January, Swedish-Danish right-wing extremist Rasmus Paludan burned a Holy Quran to denounce Sweden’s membership application to NATO and the negotiations with Turkiye to allow Sweden to join the alliance.

On 28 June, an Iraqi refugee in Sweden burnt some pages of a copy of the Holy Quran in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque during Eid al-Adha, a festival celebrated by Muslims around the world.

The two events triggered a series of condemnations in the Muslim world.

Although the Swedish police pointed out that permission to demonstrate was not a formal authorisation to burn a sacred book, there is no law prohibiting the burning of holy books.

But the police can refuse to allow a demonstration if it jeopardises security or gives rise to acts or words that incite racial hatred.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2023

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