Saudi Arabia summons Swedish diplomat over Quran desecration

Riyadh pressured Sweden to act against "disgraceful" Quran-related protests staged by an Iraqi refugee in Stockholm

The protests have triggered a diplomatic crisis between Sweden and several Islamic nations (Photo: DW)
The protests have triggered a diplomatic crisis between Sweden and several Islamic nations (Photo: DW)


The Saudi Arabian government condemned the Stockholm protests involving Quran, Islam's holy book, and summoned Sweden's top diplomat in the kingdom over the incident.

Riyadh issued a "protest note that includes the kingdom's request to the Swedish authorities to take all immediate and necessary measures to stop these disgraceful acts," Saudi Foreign Ministry said late on Thursday.

Separately, Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran also summoned Sweden's ambassador to Tehran. The Iranian Foreign Ministry said it "holds the Swedish government fully responsible for the consequences of inciting the feelings of Muslims around the world."

Various other Muslim-majority countries and organizations have also sharply criticized Sweden for not stopping the protests that saw an Iraqi refugee burn a copy of the Quran last month and stomp on it on Thursday. The man is a self-described atheist. Also on Thursday, Iraq expelled the Swedish envoy and the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad was stormed by angry protesters.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which includes dozens of Muslim-majority countries across the world, said the latest "provocative attack" in Stockholm could not be justified due to the freedom of expression.

Earlier this year, far-right Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan also sparked international outrage by publicly setting fire to a copy of the Quran in Stockholm.

Why are protesters allowed to burn holy books In Sweden?

Acts of perceived blasphemy are punishable by death in both Saudi Arabia and Iran, with scores of other nations also enforcing laws against it. While Sweden also had similar laws in the past, including a death sentence for blasphemy in the 19th century, blasphemy is no longer considered an offense in the Scandinavian country. In turn, freedom of speech is protected by the Swedish constitution.

Citing these legal principles, the Swedish government said it is not able to stop Quran-linked demonstrations. Authorities also permitted the protest of a man who said he intended to burn copies of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Bible, although he said he never intended to actually burn the holy books.

The decision on whether to allow protests is left to the police, who can only stop an event if there is a valid reason, such as a threat to public safety. Their decisions can also be overturned by courts.

At the same time, critics of the Quran protests point to Sweden's hate speech laws, which forbid incitement against people over their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender. They claim that recent demonstrations amount to incitement against Muslims. Others insist that the events are protesting Islam itself rather than Muslims as a group and that the right to free speech must also protect acts that certain groups find offensive.

Swedish police have already filed preliminary hate speech charges against the man who burned a copy of the Quran in June and stomped on it this week. The prosecutors have yet to decide whether to formally indict him.

The Swedish government has condemned Quran burnings as "Islamophobic."

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