Feb 2, 2023
Sweden Seeks to Ban Terrorism Support as Turkey Stalls NATO Bid
(Bloomberg) -- Sweden’s government proposed a new law to ban activities that support terror organizations, as its bid to join NATO has stalled over Turkish objections.
Five years in the making, the law is set to give the Nordic nation a new tool with which to counter any Turkish claims that it doesn’t do enough to combat terror. Turkey has particularly objected to Sweden in the months-long NATO enlargement process, though its demands have shifted over that time.
The legislation needs a sign off from parliament before it can enter into force on June 1 — just after the Turkish elections, which are seen as a watershed for the process. That’s as Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is widely perceived to be using the issue as a means to garner votes along with a bid to push North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies to cooperate with his nation in fighting terrorism.
Under the proposed Swedish law, participation in a terrorist organization with the intent to promote, strengthen or support the group in question would be banned, according to Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer, who unveiled it in Stockholm on Thursday.
“This is a far-reaching law that covers basically all cases of participation in these kinds of activities,” Strommer said. “The current law requires that an activity must be connected to a certain act of terrorism to be illegal, but this law is focused on participation, which makes it far broader and more forceful.”
The law builds on constitutional amendments that entered into force on Jan. 1 and is the culmination of years of work to strengthen laws on terror that started after a truck plowed through Stockholm’s main pedestrian shopping street in 2017, killing five.
The proposal comes as Sweden and Finland’s effort to join the defense alliance has been blocked by Turkey’s refusal to ratify their membership bids. Turkey initially focused its criticism on what it said was a lack of efforts to crack down on terrorist groups.
Those concerns were addressed in the memorandum signed by all three countries in June last year, in which Sweden said it was preparing to further tighten its counter-terrorism legislation. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson called Thursday’s bill an “important step” in his country’s efforts to fulfill the pledges.
“This is a cornerstone in Sweden’s long-term commitment to counter terrorism, regardless if it aims to hurt Sweden or if it aims to hurt other countries,” Kristersson said at a news conference with his Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin. “We have delivered concrete results on all parts of the memorandum and we will continue to implement it.”
Over the months since Sweden and Finland’s applications, 28 of 30 NATO members have ratified their entry, underscoring that the Nordic nations fulfill the criteria NATO has set for membership. NATO diplomats have hoped to finalize the enlargement in time for the alliance’s summit in Vilnius in July.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s demands have shifted, with Erdogan’s rhetoric focusing more on an incident in which a Danish far-right activist, Rasmus Paludan, burned a translated copy of the Koran near Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm. The move pushed Erdogan to rule out supporting Sweden’s NATO application, and on Thursday the Turkish president referred to the incident as a “hate crime.”
“We expect Sweden to respect the beliefs of all groups living in the country and to take sincere steps in the fight against Islamophobia,” Erdogan said in an interview with state broadcaster TRT. “We cannot accept that Sweden remains a bystander to the attack against our holy book.”
Strommer stopped short of saying whether the bill could influence the NATO process but said the new legislation would provide Sweden with “much more forceful tools against all organizations engaged in terrorism,” and that its ability to fight terrorism would be “considerably enhanced.”
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said in an interview with Dagens Nyheter on Wednesday that his government will make no compromises when it comes to the country’s laws on freedom of expression, and stressed that the memorandum agreed upon last year with Turkey and Finland does not mention religious issues.
--With assistance from Selcan Hacaoglu.
(Updates with comments from Sweden’s prime minister from eighth paragraph.)
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