Sweden says it's target of Russia-backed disinformation | World News - Hindustan Times

Sweden is target of disinformation campaign backed by Russia over NATO, Koran matters: Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin

Reuters | | Posted by Sreelakshmi B
Jul 26, 2023 08:43 PM IST

Sweden's bid to join NATO after Russia's invasion of Ukraine has put it in the international spotlight.

Sweden is the target of a disinformation campaign by "Russia-backed actors" intended to hurt the image of the NATO-candidate country by implying it supported recent burnings of the Koran, its Minister for Civil Defence said on Wednesday.

Police stand guard near the Iraqi embassy ahead of a demonstration in Stockholm, Sweden.(Reuters)
Police stand guard near the Iraqi embassy ahead of a demonstration in Stockholm, Sweden.(Reuters)

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.

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"Sweden is the target of a disinformation campaign supported by state and state-like actors with the aim of damaging Swedish interests and ... Swedish citizens," the minister, Carl-Oskar Bohlin, told reporters at a press conference.

"We can see how Russia-backed actors are amplifying incorrect statements such as that the Swedish state is behind the desecration of holy scriptures," he said.

"That is, naturally, completely false," Bohlin said, adding that such state actors tried to "create division and weaken Sweden's international standing."

There was no immediate reply from the Russian embassy in Stockholm to a request for comment about the minister's remarks.

Mikael Ostlund, a spokesman for Sweden's Psychological Defence Agency, told the press conference: "Russia is using these opportunities to promote its agenda in the media and the message there aims, of course, at splitting us in the West and at creating increased concern and division here in Sweden."

"Obviously, one such ambition from Russia's side is to be able to complicate our joining NATO."


In a statement earlier this month, Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said the desecration of holy texts was "offensive and disrespectful". "Expressions of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance have no place in Sweden or in Europe," he said.

Copies of the Koran have been burned at several demonstrations in Sweden and Denmark this summer, causing outrage among Muslims and prompting protesters to storm and vandalize the Swedish embassy in Baghdad.

Denmark and Sweden have said they deplore the burning of the Koran but cannot prevent it under rules protecting free speech.

Turkey, which holds a veto over Swedish NATO membership, has condemned the protests and called on Stockholm to take action against the perpetrators.

Earlier on Wednesday, Sweden's security service, SAPO, warned that Sweden'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, Deputy Head of the Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Subversion Unit 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.

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