Another incident of desecration of the Holy Quran has taken place outside the Swedish Royal Palace in the capital Stockholm amid a heavy police presence, it emerged on Wednesday.
The incident, which took place on Monday, marked the second time in a matter of weeks that Salwan Momika, 37, and Salwan Najem, 48, have desecrated the Holy Quran, Al Jazeera reported.
Momika, an Iraqi refugee based in Sweden, has been involved in multiple such incidents, the last being on July 31, when he and another man desecrated the Holy Quran outside the Swedish parliament.
The act — permitted under Sweden’s freedom of speech laws — took place at Mynttorget, a central square surrounded by government buildings and the palace, Al Jazeera said.
Momika and Najem engaged in a prolonged, theatrical and now familiar desecration of the Quran while using a megaphone to goad counterprotesters, the report said.
It added that “several people in the crowd brought their own megaphones, and the two men were largely drowned out by counterprotesters”.
Present among the crowd was a group wearing firefighter-themed outfits whose members chanted “extinguish the hate” while handing out plastic firefighter hats and encouraging onlookers to speak into their megaphones, Al Jazeera stated.
Anadolu Agency reported that the perpetrators faced a reaction from a group of Swedish activists, who asked them to stop the provocative act.
It stated, “The police, protecting the attackers, arrested one of the activists, who moved to thwart the attack.”
The duo also staged a similar protest outside Iraq’s embassy in the Swedish capital on July 20, where they desecrated the holy book.
Following the latest incident, former premier Shehbaz Sharif termed the act as “highly disturbing”.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter), he said, “The recurring nature of such reprehensible incidents establishes that there is a vile, sinister and evil intention behind them that aims at hurting the emotions of Muslims around the world.”
He added, “Equally disturbing is the lack of action on the part of [the] Swedish government to check such incidents through strict enforcement of law. Mere expression of regret and condemnation is not enough.”
The former prime minister stated that the “desecration of religious symbols, holy personages and books damages interfaith harmony that the world so desperately needs”.
Calls to ban such acts
In July, the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution on religious hatred, which was introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
The resolution called for the UN rights chief to publish a report on religious hatred and for states to review their laws and plug gaps that may “impede the prevention and prosecution of acts and advocacy of religious hatred”.
The same month, the UN General Assembly 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, titled ‘Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech’, won the approval of the 193-member assembly and stated: “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.”
While the governments of the two Nordic countries have said they were examining ways to legally limit such acts in a bid to de-escalate growing tensions with several Muslim countries, there has also been limited political will in Sweden to do so.
This month, the Swedish government ruled out any sweeping changes to its freedom of speech laws but repeated it would look into measures that would allow police to stop the burning of holy books in public if there is a clear threat to national security, Al Jazeera said in its recent report.
Holy Quran desecrations are permitted in Sweden, Denmark and Norway but not in neighbouring Finland where desecration of holy scriptures in public is illegal. Sweden had a similar law but removed it in the 1970s.
Sweden has laws banning hate speech against ethnic, national and religious groups and people on grounds of sexual orientation. However, the desecration of holy scriptures has thus far not qualified as hate speech but has been seen as acceptable criticism.
Deputy Prime Minister Ebba Busch of the Christian Democrats said last month that Sweden alone determined its legislation and would not be influenced by other countries’ faiths or laws.
Journalist and freedom of speech expert Nils Funcke had said changes to the Public Order Act as mooted by the government would be very hard to introduce and would likely clash with Sweden’s constitutionally protected freedom of assembly.