‘Russia-backed actors’ targeting Sweden with disinformation campaign: Official

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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 Quran, its Minister for Civil Defense said on Wednesday.

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.

Swedish Premier Ulf Kristersson also commented on the topic in a post, saying he wanted to correct a common misunderstanding.

“The Swedish state does not issue permissions to burn copies of the Quran. However, the police issue permits for public gatherings – a right that is enshrined in Sweden’s constitution,” Kristersson wrote on Facebook.

He said Sweden had no tradition of burning books just because it was legal.

“The state guarantees the right to freedom of expression, but does not thereby stand behind any political messages,” he wrote.

Mikael Ostlund, a spokesman for Sweden’s Psychological Defense Agency, said Russia was using the Quran burnings as opportunities to promote its agenda in the media.

“Obviously, one such ambition from Russia’s side is to be able to complicate our joining NATO.”

Freedom of speech


Copies of the Quran 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 Quran 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, a senior official 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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