ISLAMABAD / STOCKHOLM: Pakistan and Egypt on Thursday continued to condemn successive acts of sacrilege across Europe, which have prompted widespread anger and condemnation across the Muslim world.

Meanwhile, the Swedish government has ordered 15 government agencies to strengthen the country’s ability to prevent terrorism, in response to a worsening security situation following protests involving the desecration of the Holy Quran.

On Thursday, Pakistan slammed the desecration of the Muslim holy book, as well as the dishonouring of its national flag, outside its embassy in Copenhagen.

Similarly, Cairo summoned Denmark’s ambassador over the third such incident that occurred in Denmark in less than a week.

“A strong protest has been lodged with the government of Denmark. We expect the Danish authorities to take all measures necessary to stop such acts of hatred and incitement,” said FO Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch in a weekly briefing, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan.

Stockholm tries to distance itself from burnings; Swedish prime minister claims fears of terror attacks heightened

She said that these acts, by any definition, do not constitute freedom of expression, nor can the permission to carry out provocative acts of religious hatred be justified under the pretext of freedom of expression, opinion and protest.

Noting that Pakistan has always maintained that freedom of expression comes with responsibilities, Ms Baloch said: “It is the responsibility of national governments, regional organisations and the international community at large to call out, condemn and proactively prevent the vile acts of Islamophobia and religious hatred”.

Sweden ‘distances itself’

In an attempt to distance the state from these acts of desecration, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said on Thursday that the Swedish state does not sanction or condone burnings of the Holy Quran.

“In some countries there is a perception that the Swedish state is behind or condone this. We don’t,” Reuters quoted Billstrom as telling reporters, adding that they are permitted by Swedish freedom of speech laws.

“These are acts committed by individuals, but they do it within the framework of freedom of speech laws,” he said.

The minister said he had been in touch with the foreign ministers of Iran, Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon among others as well as the United Nations secretary-general.

“And just now I will speak to the secretary-general for the Organisation of Islamic Countries. We will discuss these issues and it’s important to stress that this is a long-term issue, there are no quick fixes,” he said.

Stockholm under threat

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in a statement that recent demonstrative burnings have increased the risks for Sweden.

“We have, according to the Swedish Security Service, gone from being what is called a legitimate target for terror attacks, to being a prioritised target,” AFP quoted him as saying, while noting that the situation was “very serious.”

As a result, 15 government agencies – including Sweden’s armed forces, several law enforcement agencies and the Swedish tax agency – had been tasked with “intensifying their work” under the leadership of the security service.

Speaking at a press conference, Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer said the work would seek to strengthen Sweden’s “ability to prevent, deter and impede terrorism and violent extremism.”

The announcement comes a day after Sweden’s government said the country had become the target of disinformation campaigns.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2023

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