Government: Turkey free to hold campaign meetings in Sweden
Sweden's prime minister, Stefan Löfven, has given Turkey the green light to campaign in Sweden ahead of a referendum on expanding presidential powers in Turkey - a vote that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pushed for.
Löfven told newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Monday that, in Sweden, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are fundamental rights, even for politicians from foreign countries, so long as those rights are exercised peacefully.
Löfven's statement backed that of democracy minister, Alice Bah Kuhnke, who on Sunday night told Swedish Television that allowing Mehmet Medhi Eker, international secretary of Turkish ruling AKP party, to speak in Sweden was a question of democratic rights.
Bah Kuhnke said that Eker had come to Sweden of his own accord and had not been invited by the Swedish government. Eker did not meet anyone from the government during his visit in Sweden.
Bah Kuhnke had come under pressure after Sweden took no action to prevent Eker from leading a meeting of more than 300 supporters in Fittja, a Stockholm suburb with a large Turkish population.
The German and Dutch governments, on the other hand, have banned top Turkish politicians from campaigning in their countries ahead of April's referendum in Turkey, and that drew protests from Turkish citizens and angry rhetoric from Erdoğan, who likened Germany and the Netherlands to the Nazi regime.
Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven refused to criticise his European counterparts, saying it is up to them how they respond to Turkey's referendum campaign.
In Stockholm, there was a heavy police presence at the Sunday rally, where AKP supporters were separated from AKP opponents. Among the 300 AKP supporters, there were also representatives of the Grey Wolves, an extreme right-wing nationalist group.
Fredrik Malm, a Liberal Party MP, questioned whether Eker should have been allowed to speak in Sweden. He told Swedish Radio on Sunday that the issue was sensitive because Turkey's leadership, under president Erdoğan, was converting the country into a dictatorship and using extremely aggressive, threatening language. It is wrong, claimed Malm, to compare the sort of meetings led by Eker on Sunday to a rally by "a normal democratic party".
However, Sweden’s democracy minister, Alice Bah Kuhnke, said that, while Sweden's government would always raise its concerns about threats to democracy in Turkey at diplomatic meetings, it was not ready to ban political figures from entering the country. She said that Sweden does not issue entry bans against individuals and that Eker had been exercising his right to travel.