April 14. 2024. 6:32

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Stoltenberg: Quran burnings should not prevent Swedish NATO membership

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke out strongly on Wednesday against Turkey’s demands that Sweden changes its freedom of expression laws, just one day before NATO talks between Sweden, Finland and Turkey were set to resume.

Sweden’s NATO application is currently blocked by Turkey, which, among other things, has been demanding Sweden make the public burning of the Quran illegal.

“My holy book, the Quran, was burned and destroyed. As long as you allow this, we will not say yes to your admission to NATO,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after Rasmus Paludan, a far-right activist burned the Quran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm in January.

However, Erdogan’s demand that Sweden should ban Quran burning is not something Stoltenberg agrees with.

“This is an issue that was not included in the agreement and should not prevent Sweden from becoming a member of NATO”, he told SVT’s programme, 30 Minuter.

Sweden, Finland and Turkey signed a bilateral agreement in June, according to which Turkey should back Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO applications provided that they fulfil certain conditions, including a fight against terrorism, arms exports and extradition.

“I have conveyed to Turkey that people can have different opinions on Qoran burning. Many countries have laws that restrict such actions, but you can’t ban everything you don’t like,” he said.

Stoltenberg’s declarations echoed Social Democrat MEP Evin Incir, who told EURACTIV that “a foreign country cannot come and tell another country how to change their laws. Especially when it weakens their freedom of speech and their freedom of assembly.”

When asked whether Sweden should change its freedom of expression laws, Stoltenberg replied that he did not want to give Sweden any advice but declared that “many things can be provocative and disrespectful but should still be legal.”

According to Stoltenberg, NATO talks with Turkey will resume on Thursday, which should present the chance to convey that Sweden and Finland have met the agreement’s requirements.

(Charles Szumski | EURACTIV.com)