Burning the Koran at the Turkish Embassy doesn’t promote hostility towards a specific ethnic group.

Burning the Koran at the Turkish Embassy doesn’t promote hostility towards a specific ethnic group.

Far-right activist Rasmus Paludan’s burning of a Koran near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm in January caused outrage in the Muslim world and led to a boycott of Sweden. The act also sparked political debate, as Turkish President Erdogan explicitly linked Swedish NATO membership with the legality of burning Korans in Sweden. Meanwhile, Swedish prosecutor Fredrik Ingblad was assessing whether Paludan’s actions were illegal, concluding that they were not. The ruling was based on the premise that, while burning a religious book might be seen as disrespectful to those who identify with the religion, it is not the same as inciting hatred towards a particular ethnic group. Discussions around the case are ongoing, and other lawsuits related to Paludan’s actions are underway.

On January 21, far-right activist Rasmus Paludan stood near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm and set fire to a Koran. The incident echoed in the Muslim world where the Swedish flag was burned and a boycott of Sweden was called for.

Paludan’s Koran burning also became big politics because Turkish President Erdogan decided that the country will say no to Swedish NATO membership as long as it is legal to burn Korans in Sweden.

Intense discussions also erupted about whether what Paludan did was criminal, whether it was incitement against a ethnic group. But now a prosecutor has concluded that no, it wasn’t.

A few days after the Koran burning, a private person reported Rasmus Paludan to the police and the case ended up with prosecutor Fredrik Ingblad in Västerås, who is a subject specialist in hate crimes within the Public Prosecutor’s Office. A few weeks later, he decided to close the report and not to initiate a preliminary investigation. The decision from March 12 states that “the reported act does not include incitement against a group of people nor any other crime”.

– In short, this is about whether it is part of freedom of expression to burn a Koran, and strong reasons are required to restrict freedom of expression. This is the basis of the European Convention and thus also Swedish law, says Fredrik Ingblad.

The decision is unusually detailed, he says, to explain the legal grounds.

The running point is that there is a difference between expressing disrespect towards people or a group of people – and towards a symbol of something.

– I came to the conclusion that a Koran burning targets a symbol against the religion and not the group itself, even if people are offended. That distinction is important to understanding the debate.

Next step is to assess what happened at the scene, what was said and how it was said. These factors are also important, in which context the Koran burning took place.

– If the burning of the Koran then takes on a different meaning afterwards and upsets people because the event has been put in a different context, it should not be given any decisive importance, says Fredrik Ingblad.

The third and final step in his assessment is that in 1970 the Riksdag abolished the ban on insulting something that religious communities hold sacred.

– My conclusion then is that the Riksdag saw reason to do so.

Fredrik Ingblad is not the only prosecutor who has come to the conclusion that Koran burning is not incitement against a ethnic group, two years ago another prosecutor came to the same conclusion. Justice Thomas Bull has also emphasized the difference between targeting a symbol and targeting people.

Prosecutor Fredrik Ingblad underlines that he has not passed a sentence but has judged a single Koran burning, the one outside the Turkish embassy.

– As I said, the context is important, so I have not made a decision that it can never be punishable. Incitement against a group of people is about the context and purpose.

Ingblad’s decision to close the preliminary investigation can be reviewed, and in any case ends up with a chief prosecutor at the Public Prosecutor’s Office’s development centre.

Several others lawsuits are ongoing regarding Paludan’s Koran burnings.

A preliminary investigation has been underway against the Danish-Swedish party leader for Stram Kurs for incitement against ethnic groups after Paludan burned a koran at Skånegården on the outskirts of Malmö last year.

And the administrative court in Stockholm is currently examining whether it was right for the Police Authority to completely ban Koran burning for the time being, for safety reasons.

Read more:

No hate crime to burn the Koran

Police decision: Only the Koran should be protected from burning


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