In Sweden, Freedom of Expression Cannot be Unfettered

In Sweden, the degree of freedom of speech and expression that individuals enjoy is among the highest in the world. In that northern European 2country, freedom of expression is protected by the Constitution, and it is one of the foundations of the Swedish state. Freedom of expression, freedom of information, freedom to demonstrate and freedom of assembly are therefore central rights in Swedish democracy. The Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression was adopted in 1991 and is Sweden’s youngest fundamental law. 

Alebit laudable in theory, Sweden’s law on freedom of expression was put to the test recently when the authorities allowed an Iraqi national residing in the country to burn a copy of the Koran in front of a mosque in Stockholm. According to news reports, the 39-year-old Iraqi national wrapped the Koran in bacon, which is made of pork, a meat considered “haram” or forbidden by Islam, before burning it.

The act has created a furore in several countries, including several Middle Eastern nations and in Turkey, which is already embroiled in a confrontation with Sweden and is opposed to the latter joining NATO on the grounds that Sweden offers refuge to several Kurds that Turkey believes are terrorists opposed to its government. The burning of the Koran has, predictably, exacerbated the issue and is likely to strengthen Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s intent on joining NATO. 

Freedom of expression is a highly valuable right for individuals and nations such as Sweden must be lauded for the rights that their residents enjoy but can such rights be limitless? No. If an individual or a group of individual exercises the right to free expression, they must be subject to a limit to ensure that in exercising their rights they do not harm or violate the rights, sentiments, and beliefs of others. The act of desecration of Islam’s holy book has insulted millions of Muslims the world over. And that is certainly not acceptable.  

While Turkey, which is a member of NATO, has said that it would not lend its support to Sweden’s bid to join NATO (one NATO member can veto the application of any country that applies for membership of the intergovernmental organisation), several other countries have condemned the permission given to the Iraqi individual to burn the Koran as being despicable and an insult to followers of the Islamic faith. In Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, protestors stormed the compound of Swedish embassy in a reaction to the act. The protests around the world could get stronger and more widespread. 

Sweden, which has had a history of liberal-leaning governments, last year created history by electing a right-wing coalition with pronounced nationalistic ideology to power. Many connect the permission given by the authorities to the Iraqi national who burnt the Koran with the policies of the regime now ruling Sweden. 

But be that as it may, allowing the act that has outraged large parts of the world, particularly countries with Muslim majority, is condemnable and the least that Sweden can do is to apologise and act against the individual involved in the act. In Sweden or anywhere in the world, the right to freedom of expression cannot be unfettered. 

The Emergence of War-bloggers in Russia’s War in Ukraine 

When the Gulf War broke out in 1990, CNN, then a 10-year-old, still fledgeling 24-hour news channel, took the lead in its coverage of the conflict. That war, which began with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait followed by retaliation by a 39-country coalition led primarily by the US, had several consequences that changed the geopolitics of the Middle East and the ripple effects of that conflict continue. But one indirect impact of the war was the rise of CNN as a global news organisation and a go-to brand for credible information.  

In the ongoing Russian offensive against Ukraine, which began in the second half of February last year, a different kind of news phenomenon has been taking shape. Reports and news of the war between the two nations have been marked by extreme biases. The Russian news sources have predictably glossed over their country’s setbacks and war-related losses, including human casualties, and exaggerated claims of victories, captured territories and losses inflicted on Ukrainian forces. Similarly, the Ukrainian side has underplayed its losses and overplayed its victories.  

In the melee, however, there has emerged a new, fragmented class of news sources. These are the Russian war bloggers. Many of these individuals are independent, reporting from the frontlines, selling their stories and videos to established Russian and other international media platforms. A few of them are Kremlin-backed journalists who toe the government line but many others, while supporting the Russian offensive and justifying the war also seem to be “fairer” in their reportage: unlike official Russian media, they also report on Russia’s actual setbacks and losses in the war.  

Interestingly, even as speculation is rife about the recent attempted “coup” against Kremlin by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, a private military corporation that has been active in the war, Russian war bloggers, despite their biases, have often been the source of more information than is otherwise available from official media sources on either side of the conflict. 

Is this the kind of indie war reporting that could set the foundation for the future of news sources, particularly from war-torn zones? 

Another Good Reason to Junk Your Diet Sodas 

The World Health Organisation’s cancer research unit is set to classify aspartame, a calorie-free artificial sweetener that is used in many soft drinks as carcinogenic. Notably, Coca-Cola, the beverages giant, uses aspartame in many of its drinks such as diet soda to reduce sugar and calories 

The controversy over aspartame safety is not new. It originated in perceived irregularities in the aspartame approval process during the 1970s and early 1980s, including allegations of a revolving door relationship between regulators and industry and claims that aspartame producer G.D. Searle had withheld and falsified safety data.  

Now, with the artificial sweetener aspartame set to be declared a possible carcinogen this month by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Coke and other manufacturers that use aspartame in some of their products will be in a spot.  

China Hardens its Foreign Policy 

In a move widely seen as a reaction to various sanctions and restrictions imposed by the <Us against China, beginning July, China will follow a new international policy that grants it the authority to impose “countermeasures” against perceived threats. The law, set to take effect on July 1, reflects Beijing’s ongoing efforts to strengthen its position amid strained relationships with Western countries. The law is aimed at countering Western powers and extends President Xi Jinping’s combative stance on asserting Beijing on the world stage. The law threatens to punish entities that act in ways “detrimental” to China’s interests. 

The new law is seen as China’s counter to the US blacklisting it recently for its support and participation in the Ukraine war and its alleged attempts at surveillance. Most recently, after the so-called failed coup by Prigozhin in Russia, President Xi quite categorically reasserted his country’s support of Russia and its President Vladimir Putin.  

China has been articulating its world view and of creating a new order. Its alignment and strong backing of Russia and the new foreign policy is likely to bolster its attempt to counter the West. All eyes on China now.

Paris is Burning

A 17-year-old boy Nahel Merzouk was killed in France by the police. Nahel was shot dead for driving off during a police check. The killing has sparked violent protests across various cities in France. Thousands of people have gathered in various protests with the slogans of ‘Justice for Nahel’. French suburbs have been rocked by riots that have tapped into a deep-seated resentment toward the police. More than a thousand people have been arrested after thousands of fires, and several instances of looting and violence have rocked several cities, including Paris. Many residents understand the anger, but not the violence.

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