Sweden’s foreign minister has said that his government was trying to change the law to prevent future attacks on the Holy Quran, describing them as “despicable”.
Tobias Billstrom spoke by phone with his Algerian counterpart Ahmed Attaf, according to Algeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During their conversation, Billstrom pointed to constitutional restrictions that limit the ability of his government to prevent such behaviour while expressing deep regret over such actions.
“We are working to ensure that the disrespect towards the Quran is not repeated,” he said.
Billstrom also briefed Attaf on an initiative taken by the Swedish Ministry of Justice to evaluate the possibility of adopting a law on maintaining public order to address such unacceptable behaviour.
In January, Rasmus Paludan, a far-right Danish leader, burned a copy of the Holy Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm. The incident sparked outrage and condemnation across the Islamic world.
Following these incidents, anti-Sweden protests took place in several cities in Lebanon. Sweden’s ambassador to the country, Ann Dismorr, reportedly left the country for a planned vacation.
UNGA adopts resolution condemning attacks against religious symbols, holy books
Separately, the UN General Assembly on Tuesday adopted, by consensus, a Moroccan resolution, co-sponsored by Pakistan, calling for countering hate speech and strongly deploring attacks against places of worship, religious symbols and holy books.
The resolution, entitled: ‘Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech’, won the approval of the 193-member assembly amid growing acts of the Holy Quran’s desecration.
Diplomats said that Pakistan led the efforts, along with Malaysia and Egypt, to work toward the resolution of the language aimed at upholding the sanctity of religious sites, symbols and holy books.
“Strongly deploring all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief, as well as any such acts directed against their religious symbols, holy books, homes, businesses, properties, schools, cultural centres or places of worship, as well as all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines in violation of international law,” the resolution reads.
Spain submitted an amendment asking for the last words of that paragraph “in violation of international law” to be deleted.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the Spanish delegate emphasised that although such actions were deeply offensive and disrespectful, they did not constitute a violation of international law, and thus proposed the elimination of the reference to “in violation of international law”.
But the amendment to change the phrasing was defeated. It secured only 44 votes in favour, with 62 voting against. There were 24 abstentions.
Under the terms of the resolution, the General Assembly urged member states to engage with all relevant stakeholders to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue and respect and acceptance of differences, among other things, to reject the spread of hate speech which constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.
It further called on member states and social media companies to counter hate speech and address its increasing spread, enable research into measures to reduce it and promote users’ access to effective reporting channels.
The assembly also voiced deep concern over the rise in instances of discrimination, intolerance and violence, regardless of the actors, including cases motivated by Islamophobia, on a proposal put forward by Pakistan, and backed by Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, according to the diplomats.
Pakistan’s delegate, Bilal Chaudhry, expressing his “profound satisfaction” over the adoption of the resolution, said the text resonated with the resolution on religious hatred, presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, recently adopted at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
That landmark resolution condemned “all advocacy and manifestations of religious hatred, including recent public and premeditated acts that have desecrated the Quran” and called for countries to adopt laws enabling them to bring to justice those responsible for such acts, he pointed out.
“Islamophobia is on the rise, with the repeated incidents of desecration of the Holy Quran. These acts are not just a provocation to the feelings of more than two billion Muslims in the world, but a step to sabotage interfaith harmony and peace,” Chaudhry said.
“Such incidents are also a manifestation of racial hatred and xenophobia, and absence of preventive legal deterrence, inaction, and shying away from speaking out encourages further incitement to hatred and violence,” he added.
Finally, he said that the text did not seek to curtail the right to free speech, “but tries to underline the ‘special duties and responsibilities’ of the international community to safeguard interfaith peace and harmony.”