Sweden tightens anti-terror laws as Finland makes public show of support over NATO application
The Swedish government says it will further tighten its anti-terror laws to ban more activities linked to militant Kurdish groups, in the hopes of persuading Ankara to drop objections to Sweden’s NATO membership bid.
Stockholm had aleady amended its constitution in November to pave the way for the legal changes, which have been in the pipeline for several years.
“It’s a broader criminalisation, targeting a large number of activities within a terrorist organisation that are not concretely connected to a particular terrorist crime,” explained Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer at a press conference.
According to the new bill, acts such as handling equipment, organising rallies or meetings, managing transport for organisations designated as terrorists – or even cooking for them – would be criminalised. The government plans to put the bill to a vote in parliament in March, to be implemented from June.
Meanwhile Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin was in Stockholm on Thursday for a meeting with her Swedish counterpart Ulf Kristersson, in another public show of solidarity between the Nordic nations.
Marin told reporters that Finland wanted to continue together with Sweden in the accession process and seemed confident the problems with Turkey would be overcome by the time of the next NATO summit in Vilnius in July.
“It is very important that we send a clear message today. Finland and Sweden applied together, and it is in everyone’s interest that we join together,” Marin said.
“I don’t like this view where Sweden is presented as the difficult child of the class,” Marin stated, adding that Sweden already meets all the membership criteria to join NATO.
Prime Minister Kristersson said he appreciated the “very clear messages” from Marin, and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö on the subject.
What does Turkey’s President Erdogan want?
Of NATO‘s 30 members, only the parliaments of Turkey and Hungary have not yet ratified entry for Sweden and Finland, which are worried about their security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Turkey has demanded increasingly more action from Sweden in particular against Kurdish groups which it regards as “terrorist organisations”, including members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and allied groups in Syria.
Regular pro-Kurdish rallies in Sweden, where PKK flags are often flown, has particularly irritated; but Sweden has also declined to extradite dozens of suspects that Ankara links to outlawed Kurdish fighters and a failed 2016 coup attempt.
Under the new Swedish anti-terror legislation, participating in a demonstration or meeting of an organisation considered to be terrorist will not be punishable in itself. Waving a flag would not be criminalised per se but could potentially be used as evidence in court, authorities say.
Turkey had also reacted with fury to a decision by the Swedish police to allow a protest at which a far-right extremist burned a copy of the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm earlier in January.
It has been outraged, too, by a Swedish prosecutor’s decision not to press charges against a pro-Kurdish group that hung an effigy of Erdogan by its ankles outside the Stockholm City Court.
Following those incidents, Ankara last week suspended the two countries’ NATO accession talks but has hinted that Finland’s bid could be ratified, while Sweden’s would be put on ice.
Poll: Small majority of Finns want to continue without Sweden
Meanwhile a new poll reveals that a majority of Finns are in favour of their country joining NATO without waiting for Finland.
The survey, by Finnish daily Ilta-Sanomat, showed 53% of respondents believe that Finland should not “wait for Sweden” in the NATO access process, even “if it takes longer to ratify because of, for example, Turkey’s opposition”.
Only 28% thought the country should wait to join the military alliance together with Sweden. Researchers asked 1,021 Finns between 30 January and 1 February.
The two countries applied for NATO membership together in May 2022 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although they had been closely aligned with the 30-member military alliance for several decades.