Sweden accused Russia to be behind a disinformation campaign on burning of the quranan act that has been repeated in demonstrations and that has inflamed tensions with Middle Eastern countries in the midst of the Stockholm accession process to NATO.
As noted by the swedish psychological defense agencyunder the Ministry of Defense, the Russian media RT and Sputnik, controlled by the Kremlin, have been publishing articles in Arabic in which they falsely claimed that the Swedish government supported the burning of the Koran.
In late July, Salwan Momika and Salwan Najem trampled on a copy of the Muslim holy book before setting fire to some of its pages, just as they did in June outside Stockholm’s main mosque. The demonstration was authorized by the Swedish police, who clarified that the permits that were granted only referred to the demonstration itself and not to what was happening there.
The organizers told the media that they expected Sweden to ban the Koran. “I will burn it many times, until they ban it,” Salwan Najem, a 37-year-old Iraqi refugee, told the Expressen newspaper.
Simultaneously, while tensions with the Middle East are stirring, the authorities have registered close to a million similar publications in Arabic and other languages as part of the Russian campaign since the end of June.
Mikael Östlund, a spokesman for the psychological defense agency, said that since the burning of a Koran in front of the Stockholm mosque, online misinformation had increased exponentially. “They repeat that Sweden supports the burning of the Koran and that it is an Islamophobic country and hostile to Islam,” he said, as reported Guardian. “We are not very surprised because Russia is using narratives that make Sweden look bad and make it difficult for it to join NATO”.
Referring to the chains of Putin’s communication apparatus, he said that “RT and Sputnik they have published several posts with those narratives since June and July in Arabic, so obviously they want to be heard among Arabic-speaking people”.
“Everything is approved by the Kremlin, so it comes from the Russian government.. The narrative is in line with what the Kremlin wants them to do,” she noted.
“Russia is using these events to push its agenda in the media and on the channels it controls, and the message is obviously to divide us in the West and also to create further anxiety and polarization here in Sweden. An obvious ambition of the Russian side is, of course, to make it difficult for Sweden to join NATO, ”she said at a press conference at the end of July.
As remarked Valentyna Shapovalova, a PhD candidate at the University of Copenhagen who studies Russian propaganda and disinformation, “Russia is no doubt trying to use the burning of the Koran in its propaganda narrative, which revolves around the idea that, in general, the West and Western values are corrupt and in decline. In addition, he stressed that the issue has been present almost daily in the Russian news. “In some media, the burning of the Koran has been used as proof that the liberal western world has gone too far”, he added to Guardian.
For her part, Maria Brock, a researcher at the University of Malmö, pointed out that the narratives collected by Russian bloggers, journalists and in various forums focus on spreading anti-Muslim sentiments.
In addition, he explained that in addition to sabotaging Sweden’s accession to NATO, there is also a long-term motive: to question the nature of the truth or sow mistrust in the traditional media. “This goes back to the discussions that people had around Trump the first time: ‘Is this news? Is it fake news? It could be true, it seems true,’” he noted.
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