Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has defended the right of people to desecrate the Quran in the name of freedom of speech.
Solberg was speaking after an anti-Islam rally took place this weekend near parliament in Oslo where pages were torn out of the Quran.
She distanced herself from any anti-Islam views but said others had the right to express them.
The rally was staged by the group Stop Islamisation of Norway. A female member of the group was seen ripping out pages from the Quran and spitting on them.
A large group of counter-protesters also assembled and the police arrested 29 people, several of whom were minors, Norwegian public broadcaster NRK reported.
Solberg told news agency NTB that she was “very worried that freedom of speech, which we strongly defend in Norway, may be experienced differently in other countries, or that it may be perceived that we do not care about the views that SIAN has, because we do.”
“I strongly dissociate myself from everything they (SIAN) stand for,” she said. “I think it’s hurtful to hear how they talk about people living in this country, talk about the faith of people living in this country.”
The protest in Norway comes on the heels of a similar incident in the Swedish city of Malmo on Friday, where protesters clashed with police after right-wing extremists burned a copy of the Quran.
Stop Islamisation of Norway was established in 2008 and its stated aim is to work against Islam which it defines as a totalitarian political ideology that violates the Norwegian Constitution as well as democratic and human values.
Free expression is a widely accepted and popular idea in Norway and has been since censorship was abolished in 1770. Norway always ranks near the top of the charts regarding freedom of expression according to the World Press Freedom Index.
Islam is the second largest religion in Norway after Christianity. As of 2019, Statistics Norway records that 175,507 Muslims were living in Norway or 3.29% of total population.