Russia ‘using disinformation’ to imply Sweden supported Qur’an burnings

11 months ago 17

Sweden has been the target of a disinformation campaign by “Russia-backed actors” attempting to damage the image of the Nato candidate country by implying it supported recent burnings of the Qur’an, its government has said.

“Sweden is right now the target of influence campaigns, supported by states and state-like actors, whose purpose is to harm Sweden and Swedish interests,” prime minister Ulf Kristersson wrote on Instagram on Wednesday.

Sweden’s bid to join Nato after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put it in the international spotlight, while a number of demonstrations at which protesters have burned copies of the Muslim holy book have angered Muslims around the world.

Kristersson said that recent “burnings of copies of religious texts” coincide with a difficult “security policy situation.”

“These events are then retold in an inaccurate way, sometimes with direct calls to hurt our country,” he continued.

In a separate statement, minister for civil defence Carl-Oskar Bohlin said “Russia-backed actors are amplifying incorrect statements such as that the Swedish state is behind the desecration of holy scriptures.

“That is, naturally, completely false,” Bohlin said, adding that such state actors are trying to “create division and weaken Sweden’s international standing.”

Bohlin said there was a risk that the effort could “jeopardise the situation of Swedish citizens and companies abroad, and pose a threat to national security.”

Tensions have flared between Sweden and several Middle Eastern nations after an Iraqi refugee staged two protests in which he desecrated the Qur’an.

In late June, Salwan Momika, 37, set pages of the Muslim holy text alight outside Stockholm’s main mosque.

skip past newsletter promotion

Last week he staged a similar protest outside Iraq’s embassy, stomping on the Qur’an but leaving before burning it.

Sweden’s government has condemned the desecrations, while stressing the country’s constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and assembly.

Mikael Östlund, a spokesperson for Sweden’s Psychological Defence Agency – which was set up in 2022 to fight disinformation – said Russia was using the Qur’an burnings as opportunities to promote its agenda in the media.

“Obviously, one such ambition from Russia’s side is to be able to complicate our joining Nato.”

Soon after a previous Qur’an burning in January, it emerged that the protest had been funded by a far-right journalist with links to Kremlin-backed media.

The Qur’an burnings have raised diplomatic tensions throughout the Middle East, with Swedish envoys summoned in Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

Sweden’s ambassador has been expelled from Iraq, while Iran said it would not allow a new Swedish ambassador into the country, after repeated protests at embassies in both Baghdad and Tehran.

Abandoning centuries of military non-alignment, Sweden decided to apply for Nato membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but its membership is still awaiting ratification by Hungary and Turkey.

Earlier on Wednesday, Sweden’s security service, Sapo, warned that the country’s security situation had worsened as a result of the recent controversy over freedom of speech.

“The image of Sweden has changed. We have gone from being seen as a tolerant country to being a land that is anti-Muslim – that’s how we are seen … mainly the Muslim parts of the world,” Susanna Trehorning, a senior official at Sapo, told Swedish state broadcaster SVT.

Sweden’s security alert level has not been changed, however, and is currently at 3 on a scale of 5, indicating “heightened risk”. Five is the highest level of threat.

Read Entire Article