The Quran-burning protest that shook Stockholm on January 21, which caused Turkish president to revoke his support of Sweden's accession to NATO, was aided by journalist and former Russia Today stringer Chang Frick.
In a conversation with The Insider, Frick confirmed that he had paid for the permit to hold the protest, but added he did not ask anyone to burn the religious text. “There was no such intention, it wasn't my idea,” said the journalist.
Asked about his ties to RT and Russia, Frick said he has not worked with the channel since 2014 and has not supported Russia's position since the annexation of Crimea. The journalist is currently engaged in helping Ukrainian refugees, raising donations and working with Ukrainians.
“If [RT director] Ms. Simonyan called me after this protest (I don't know if she’s a Ms. or Mrs., I don't know anything about her), I’d tell her that after the elections in Turkey, Sweden will be admitted into NATO. Turkey has a lot of problems – inflation, poverty. They're using all this to distract attention,” Frick told The Insider.
He also said that the action was not directed against the Islamic world, but was related to the support of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey). According to the journalist, the liberal government of Sweden should support the Kurds, adhere to the right to freedom of speech and show that it is not afraid of Turkey.
On January 21, Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right party Stram Kurs (“Hard Line”), gave a speech in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm condemning Islam and then burned the Quran. The action caused a storm of condemnation in the Islamic world and strained relations between Sweden and Turkey. As Swedish authorities sanctioned the rally, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan said Turkey would withdraw its support for Sweden's bid to join NATO.
Swedish publication SVT earlier reported that Chang Frick had paid 320 kronor ($30) for the protest permit and guaranteed to cover all the costs associated with it.
Frick himself initially claimed that he had paid for Paludan's protest action, but claimed that he had arranged for the money to be transferred via an employee of the Swedish nationalist website Exakt24. Exakt24, for its part, said it was Frick who “asked to put him in touch with someone who could burn the Quran.”
In 2014, Chang Frick confirmed that he worked with Russia Today, but later noted that his involvement was limited to selling news clips to the propaganda channel. Frick flew to Moscow several times and was also the subject of multiple propagandist media reports. He denied that he coordinated his work with Moscow, but agreed that “there is a little collusion between Russia and some Swedish right-wing media.” The links were also mentioned in a New York Times investigation about Russian aid to the far-right Swedish Democrats party in the 2018 parliamentary elections.
Rasmus Paludan, a 41-year-old Danish lawyer and founder of the far-right Hard Line party, had previously held numerous rallies at which he burned the Quran, and organized multiple anti-Islamic demonstrations. In 2020, a Danish court sentenced Paludan to one month in prison and two months’ probation on 14 different charges, including racism, spreading defamatory information and dangerous driving.