Denmark passes law criminalizing book burnings

Denmark passes law criminalizing book burnings

Desecrating the holy book of Islam is now impossible in Denmark. A law prohibiting publicly burning, defiling or kicking religious texts or with the aim of widely disseminating images of desecrations was adopted on December 7 by the Danish Parliament. It is also specified that it is prohibited to tear, cut or stab these religious texts, at the risk of exposing oneself to a sentence of two years of imprisonment. This law comes after the country six years ago repealed the offense of blasphemy, a 334-year-old provision, which punished public insults against religions.

A law to respond to the terrorist threat

This law was adopted on third reading, after a debate lasting almost four hours, by 94 of the 179 members of the Danish Parliament. Initially introduced following desecrations of the holy book of Islam, this bill was intended to protect the country’s national security. According to figures from the national police, 483 book burnings and flag burnings were recorded in Denmark between July 21 and October 24, 2023, giving rise to security tensions. In Iraq, for example, hundreds of demonstrators, supporters of the influential Shiite religious leader Moqtada Al Sadr, attempted to march towards the Danish embassy in Baghdad at the end of July.

For the Danish government, it is therefore above all a question of protecting the interests of the Scandinavian country while the terrorist threat to the country has intensified. Peter Hummelgaard, Danish Minister of Justice, specified in a press release at the time the law was proposed: “The terrorist threat against Denmark following the recent Quran burnings has further increased from an already high level. (…) This is why the government is taking action against systematic acts of insults and denigration, which are aimed solely at provoking division and which have consequences for the security of Denmark and the Danes. »

Wave of indignation

Introduced at the end of August, the bill immediately aroused indignation. Its opponents strongly denounced the restrictions on freedom of expression that could result from it. “Freedom of expression – including the freedom to mistreat religious objects, however crude that may be as a form of protest – is a vital cornerstone of societies free”, we can read in a petition, published on September 15 and signed by a multitude of local and international personalities.

“The only reason we are doing this is out of fear of terrorists and diplomatic pressure from Islamic states,” lamented the Danish lawyer who initiated the petition, Jacob Mchangama, joined by The cross. When the adoption of the law was announced, he described the event as a “dark moment in Danish history that marks a real and significant shift towards the appeasement of dictators and violent extremists”, in a message posted on December 7 on X (formerly Twitter).

“We cannot condition the exercise of a freedom on the fact that the adversaries of this freedom use violent acts. It would be a total aberration and a challenge to democratic principles,” also supported Nicolas Hervieu, a lawyer in European human rights law, even though the law had not yet been adopted.

The law must now be published and come into force the day after this publication. Denmark thus joins the list of European countries banning the burning of the Koran: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Poland and Romania.

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