DUBAI (AFP): Middle East powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Iran have summoned Swedish diplomats to denounce Stockholm’s permission for protests that desecrate the Quran on free speech grounds.
The separate moves by both majority-Muslim countries, announced in statements late Thursday, came amid heightened tensions between Sweden and Iraq over a Sweden-based Iraqi refugee who last month burnt pages of the Muslim religious text outside Stockholm’s main mosque.
In the latest such incident on Thursday, the refugee, Salwan Momika, stepped on the Quran but did not burn it, triggering renewed condemnations and calls for protest across the Muslim world.
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, said it would hand the Swedish charge d’affaires “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”, according to a foreign ministry statement.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said Sweden’s ambassador to Tehran had been called in to censure the permit granted to Momika’s protest and to warn Stockholm of the consequences of such actions.
“We strongly condemn the repeated desecration of the holy Quran and Islamic sanctities in Sweden and hold the Swedish government fully responsible for the consequences of inciting the feelings of Muslims around the world,” Kanani said.
News that Swedish authorities would permit the latest demonstration to go ahead had led hundreds of Iraqis to storm and torch Sweden’s Baghdad embassy in a chaotic pre-dawn attack.
Iraq’s government condemned the attack. It also retaliated against the protest in Sweden by expelling its ambassador, vowing to sever ties and suspending the operating licence of Swedish telecom giant Ericsson.
On Thursday, the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation denounced the Stockholm protest as “another provocative attack” that could not be justified under the right to freedom of expression.
Turkey’s foreign ministry called on Sweden to take “dissuasive measures to prevent hate crimes against Islam and its billions of followers”.
In Lebanon, the leader of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah movement Hassan Nasrallah called for expulsion of the Swedish envoy there and the recall of Lebanon’s ambassador to Sweden. “It’s the minimum required,” he said.
Iranian authorities have called for nationwide demonstrations to be held after Friday prayers to denounce the “desecration of the holy Quran,” according to the state broadcaster.
Tehran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked him “to immediately condemn this action and take the necessary measures as soon as possible in order to prevent the recurrence of such insulting and provocative action,” the foreign ministry said.
Spokesman Kanani condemned “any insult to religious sanctities and holy books anywhere and by anyone”, arguing “freedom of speech used to attack dignity, morals and religious sanctities… has no value.”
The June Quran burning, during the Eidul Azha holiday, had sparked indignation and diplomatic protests across the Muslim world.
Saudi Arabia at the time called for Sweden “to stop all actions that directly contradict international efforts seeking to spread the values of tolerance, moderation and rejection of extremism, and undermine the necessary mutual respect for relations between peoples and states”.