Sweden is to tighten terrorism legislation amid tensions with Turkey over NATO’s bid
STOCKHOLM, Feb 2 (Reuters) – Sweden said on Thursday it will tighten laws covering membership of terrorist organizations months after a counter-terrorism deal with Turkey aimed at overcoming its objections to Swedish NATO membership.
The new law, which the government hopes will come into force in June, will give authorities much wider powers to detain and prosecute people who support terrorist organisations, either through funding or otherwise.
“We are talking about extremely far-reaching criminalization,” Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer told reporters.
Until now, it had been difficult to prosecute people unless their actions could be linked to a specific act of terrorism, Strommer said. The new law would cover all forms of participation.
Strommer said the need for tougher laws had been highlighted by the attack in central Stockholm in 2017 in which a man mowed down pedestrians on a busy shopping street, killing five.
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But he added that the threat level had increased recently with Sweden seen as a legitimate target after, among others, Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan burned the Koran in Stockholm last month.
“There is a clearer and stronger rhetoric,” Strommer said.
Sweden pledged to step up cooperation with Turkey to fight terrorism as part of an agreement reached in June aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to Sweden and Finland becoming NATO members.
Turkey suspended the talks last month, saying Sweden was not doing enough after protests in Stockholm including Paludan.
“Our position towards Finland is positive, but it is not positive towards Sweden,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.
Strommer said the new law would not affect the right to demonstrate, nor prevent people from waving the flag of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization in Turkey, the USA and Europe – including Sweden.
“Waving a flag as part of an expression of a different opinion will not in itself be criminalized,” Strommer said.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine, but were met with unexpected objections from Turkey and have since been trying to win its support.
Reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Nick Macfie
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