The ‘crime’ of blasphemy in Denmark has been around for over 150 years, and the last time it was used – unsuccessfuly – was in 1971.
But it’s being dusted off again to prosecute a Danish man who posted a video of himself torching Koran on Facebook.
According to this report, the 42-year-old put the clip, entitled “Consider your neighbour: it stinks when it burns” to a group called “YES TO FREEDOM – NO TO ISLAM” in December 2015.
Jan Reckendorff, from the public prosecutor’s office in Viborg, said:
It is the prosecution’s view that circumstances involving the burning of holy books such as the Bible and the Quran can in some cases be a violation of the blasphemy clause, which covers public scorn or mockery of religion.
It is our opinion that the circumstances of this case mean it should be prosecuted so the courts now have an opportunity to take a position on the matter.
Judges in Aalborg will hear the case, although a date has not yet been set.
The maximum sentence for blasphemy is four months in prison but Reckendorff said prosecutors were more likely to seek a fine.
In 1971 two Denmark Radio producers were acquitted after airing a song mocking Christianity. Two people were previously fined in 1946 after acting out a “baptism” at a ball in Copenhagen, while four others were sentenced for putting up anti-Semitic posters and leaflets in 1938.
At least a dozen other cases have been considered but not implemented, including in 2006 when prosecutors decided to stop an investigation into the Jyllands-Posten newspaper over a controversial set of caricatures under the headline “The Face of Mohamed”.
It’s a mystery why Denmark still clings onto this stupid law, especially since the United Nations Human Rights Committee pointed out that blasphemy laws are in breach of countries’ obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has recommended that all countries abolish or repeal all their blasphemy laws and enact laws that protect freedom of expression.
Internationally, blasphemy laws are considered to be incompatible with the protection of the safety and well-being of individuals and freedom of expression and there is a trend to abolish or repeal all such laws.
The common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in England and Wales in 2008 with the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act. Other countries to abolish or repeal blasphemy laws include France in 1881 (except for the Alsace-Moselle region), Sweden in 1970, Norway with Acts in 2009 and 2015, the Netherlands in 2014, Iceland in 2015, Malta in 2016, and France (the Alsace-Moselle region) in 2016.
Abolition of blasphemy in Denmark has been proposed several times by members of the parliament, but has failed to gain a majority. Moreover, 66 percent of the country’s population supports the blasphemy law, which makes it illegal to “mock legal religions and faiths in Denmark”.
Andrew Copson, President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), above, said:
We condemn the use of ‘blasphemy’ laws in all circumstances. Around the world, accusations of ‘blasphemy’ can spark mass protests, the harassment of individuals, or even murder. ‘Blasphemy’ is a bizarre, fictitious notion as a crime and has no place in courts of law anywhere in the world … Denmark remains among the handful of European countries still to have a ‘blasphemy’ law on the books, and to start using it again now flies in the face of hard-won progress.
The accused in this case is not a sympathetic figure and his actions may have be borne of bigotry. But the prosecutors here are spreading the toxic notion that governments should criminalise sacrilege, and should decide that some symbolic acts against religion as such should be suppressed and punishable. This is a regressive, outrageous violation of free expression.
The answer to anti-Muslim bigotry, when that is what is going on, is education and understanding and dialogue. The answer is emphatically not to resurrect the state policing of religious acts and language.
The Danish Humanist Society, Humanistisk Samfund, said the use of the blasphemy law was “scandalous” and that:
Legislation should protect the individual freedom of speech and individuals against hate-speech and hate-crimes. Hateful and critical utterances directed at ideas, religions and ideologies should be fought with words and debate.
Lone Ree Milkær, chairperson of the Danish Humanist Society, said:
Denmark should abolish the blasphemy law. We have freedom of religion and belief and it makes no sense to have a special protection of religions or worship. Imagine that we protected ideologies in the same way. In a secular democracy we should be able to tolerate utterances (and actions with no victims) that we dislike or disagree with and we should argue against them instead of punishing by law.
Milkær spoke at the United Nations in Geneva last year, on behalf of the Danish Humanist Society and IHEU, as a guest of the IHEU delegation. She urged Denmark to abolish the blasphemy law, citing Denmark’s:
International responsibility to be at the forefront in promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression.
She also noted that “hate speech” as such was already covered in the penal code, and that that blasphemy laws around the world are used to persecute minorities.
Hat tip: Trevor Blake and Barriejohn