The Qur’an-burning incident in Stockholm that threatens Sweden’s bid to join Nato was funded by a far-right journalist with links to Kremlin-backed media, it has emerged.
The holy book was set alight last Saturday near Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm by a far-right politician and anti-Islam provocateur, Rasmus Paludan, a dual Danish-Swedish national, with a reputation for carrying out similar acts.
Swedish media have reported that Paludan’s demonstration permit of 320 Swedish krona (£25, $31) was paid for by a former contributor to the Kremlin-backed channel RT, Chang Frick, who now does regular media spots for the far-right Sweden Democrats. Frick has confirmed he paid for the permit to hold the protest, but denied he had asked anyone to burn the Muslim holy book.
The exploit has sparked criticism across the Islamic world and deepened a stand off with Turkey over Sweden’s bid to join Nato, which requires the approval of all 30 member countries. “Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their Nato membership,” Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in response to the book burning.
Despite calls by Sweden to restart trilateral talks with Turkey and fellow applicant, Finland, on their Nato bids, Turkey’s foreign ministry said on Thursday it would be “meaningless” to hold further discussions. On Friday, Turkey also summoned the Danish ambassador, and accused Denmark of endorsing a “hate crime”.
Paludan told local media that he carried out the action because “some Swedes would like me to burn a Qur’an in front of the Turkish embassy”. In an interview with The Insider website, Frick confirmed he paid for the permit to hold the protest, but claimed “it wasn’t my idea” to burn the Muslim holy book.
He also told the website that he had not worked for Russia Today, later rebranded as RT, since 2014, and had not supported Russia since the annexation of Crimea.
Frick, a former Sweden Democrats official, is the founder of a far-right website which focuses on immigration in Sweden. Speaking to the New York Times in 2019 he joked about his ties to the Russian president Vladimir Putin. As he pulled out a wad of rouble notes from a recent trip to Russia, he told the reporter: “Here is my real boss! It’s Putin!”
Frick also has a regular show on a media channel affiliated to the far-right Sweden Democrats, which has an agreement to support Sweden’s three-party coalition, although it is not part of the government.
Sweden’s foreign minister, Tobias Billström, has said Islamophobic provocations were appalling. “Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not imply that the Swedish government, or myself, support the opinions expressed.”
Finland and Sweden last year began trilateral talks with Turkey aimed at overcoming Ankara’s doubts about their Nato membership. Sweden’s government has said it has been doing exactly what was promised to strengthen its counter-terrorism legislation, but Turkey is demanding more, including the extradition of 130 people it deems terrorists.