Sweden convicts man over 2020 Koran burning, a first

A Muslim boy learns to read the Koran at a madrassa, or religious school on the outskirts of Agartala, India.
Reuters file photo

A Swedish court on Thursday convicted a man of inciting ethnic hatred with a 2020 Koran burning, the first time the country's court system has tried the charge for desecrating Islam's holy book.

The conviction comes after a wave of Koran burnings 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 desecrations 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 "targetted 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 a Koran and bacon being burned on a barbecue, with a pejorative remark about the Prophet Mohammed written on a sign under the barbecue.

The man published the video on social media platforms Twitter, now known as X, and YouTube, and placed the burnt Koran and bacon outside the Linkoping mosque.

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 can not 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.