Sweden to tighten terrorism law amid tensions with Turkey over NATO bid

·2 min read
Sweden-EU Ministerial Meeting

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden said on Thursday it would tighten laws covering membership of terrorist organisations months after an agreement with Turkey on fighting terrorism 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 individuals who support terrorist organisations, either through financing or other means.

"We are talking about extremely far-reaching criminalisation," Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer told reporters.

Until now it had been hard to prosecute people unless their actions could be coupled to a specific terrorist act, Strommer said. The new law would cover all forms of participation.

Strommer said that the need for tighter 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.

But he added that the threat level had increased recently with Sweden seen as a legitimate target after the burning of the Koran by far-right Danish politician Rasmus Paludan in Stockholm last month, among other things.

"There is a clearer and stronger rhetoric," Strommer said.

Sweden committed to ramping up cooperation with Turkey in fighting terrorism as part of an agreement reached in June aimed at overcoming Ankara's objections to Sweden and Finland becoming members of NATO.

Turkey suspended talks last month, saying Sweden was not doing enough, after protests in Stockholm including that by Paludan.

"Our position on Finland is positive, but it is not positive on Sweden," Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

Strommer said the new law would not affect the right to demonstrate nor prevent people waving the flag of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organisation in Turkey, the United States and Europe - including Sweden.

"To wave a flag as part of an expression of a differing opinion will not, in and of itself, be criminalised," Strommer said.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine, but faced unexpected objections from Turkey and have since sought to win its support.

(Reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Nick Macfie)