Swedish police arrested two people and detained around 10 others on Sunday after a violent riot broke out at a protest in the southern city of Malmo that involved the burning of the Holy Quran.
The protest was organized by Iraqi refugee Salwan Momika, whose demonstrations, which have included public desecrations of the holy book, have sparked outrage across the Middle East. Sunday’s protest was held in a square in Malmo, which has a large immigrant population, and according to public broadcaster SVT, around 200 people showed up to watch.
Police said that the mood at the protest was “at times heated” and that a “violent riot” occurred at 1:45 pm (11:45 GMT). The event had ended after Momika left, but a group of people remained at the scene. About 10 people were detained for disturbing the public order and another two were arrested, suspected of violent rioting.
Local media reported that some onlookers threw rocks at Momika, and video from the scene showed some trying to break through the cordon before being stopped by police. In another video, a man could be seen trying to stop the police car that transported Momika from the location by getting in front of it.
Through a series of demonstrations, Momika has sparked anger directed at Sweden and diplomatic tensions between Sweden and several Middle Eastern countries. The Swedish government has condemned the desecrations of the Holy Quran while noting the country’s constitutionally protected freedom of speech and assembly laws.
Iraqi protesters stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad twice in July, starting fires within the compound on the second occasion. Swedish envoys have also been summoned in a slew of Middle Eastern nations. In mid-August, Sweden’s intelligence agency heightened its terror alert level to four on a scale of five, noting that Sweden had “gone from being considered a legitimate target for terrorist attacks to being considered a prioritised target.” Sweden also decided to beef up border controls in early August.
In late August, neighbouring Denmark, which has also seen a string of public desecrations of the Holy Quran, said it plans to ban the burnings. Sweden has, meanwhile, vowed to explore legal means of stopping protests involving the burning of texts in certain circumstances.
The violence in Malmo comes amid a growing debate in Sweden about the limits of free speech. Some argue that the right to free speech should not extend to the desecration of religious texts, while others maintain that such protests are protected by the Constitution.
The Swedish government has said that it is committed to protecting freedom of speech, but it has also expressed concern about the potential for violence that such protests can incite. The latest incident is a reminder of the challenges that Sweden faces in balancing its commitment to free speech with the need to protect public order and prevent violence.