STOCKHOLM: A Swedish court on Thursday convicted a man of inciting ethnic hatred with a sacrilegious act he committed in 2020, the first time the country’s courts have tried someone for desecrating the Holy Quran.

The conviction comes after a wave of desecrations earlier this year that stoked international outrage and made Sweden a “prioritised target”, prom­pting the country’s intelligence agency to heighten its terror alert level.

The Swedish government condemned the acts, but repeatedly upheld the country’s extensive freedom of expression laws.

The Linkoping district court in central Sweden found the 27-year-old man guilty of “agitation against an ethnic group”, saying his action had “targeted Muslims and not Islam as a religion”, and “can hardly be said to have encouraged an objective and responsible debate”.

In September 2020, the man had recorded a video clip outside the Linkoping cathedral showing the holy scripture and bacon being burned on a barbecue, with a pejorative remark about the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) written on a sign under the barbecue. The man published the video on social media platforms Twitter, now known as X, and YouTube.

The song “Remove Kebab” was used in the video, a song popular among far-right groups and which calls for the religious cleansing of Muslims.

The court said “the music is strongly associated with the attack in Christchurch”, New Zealand, in 2019 in which an Australian white supremacist killed 51 people at two mosques.

The man had denied any wrongdoing, arguing that his action was a criticism of Islam as a religion. But the court rejected that argument.

“The court finds that the chosen music to a film with such content cannot be in­­terpreted any other way than as a thre­­at against Muslims with an allusion to their faith,” the court wrote in a statement.

“The film’s content and the form of its publication are such that it is clear that the defendant’s primary purpose could not have been other than to express threats and contempt,” it said.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2023

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