Denmark plans to make burning the Quran a criminal offence, it announced on Friday, responding to a string of provocative protests that led to condemnation from the Muslim world and fears of terrorist reprisal in northern Europe.
A draft law would make it a crime to desecrate objects of particular “significance for a religious community”, also including the Bible and Torah.
This would be punishable by a fine or up to two years in prison.
Ministers said the recent spate of Quran burnings meant Denmark was “increasingly seen” as a country that “facilitates insult and denigration of other countries and religions”. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation had asked Denmark and Sweden to stop the offensive stunts.
Danish intelligence said last week it had picked up warnings of reprisal from Al Qaeda, in what the government has called a period of “intensified terrorist threat”.
The incidents included right-wing activist Rasmus Paludan setting fire to the Quran outside a mosque in Copenhagen in January.
Last month, two protesters set it alight outside the Iraqi embassy in Denmark.
“These are insulting actions that damage the safety of Danes both abroad and at home,” Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard said.
He said the bill was a “targeted intervention” that “does not change” Denmark's commitment to freedom of expression.
The proposed law would cover actions in a public place or “with the intention of spreading in a wider circle”, which could include social media if the audience is large enough.
It does not prohibit offensive writings or drawings.
The ban would extend to objects that are particularly sacred or significant, including holy books but not items of clothing.
Burning, tearing, kicking or trampling on the Quran would also be illegal. Throwing it in a bin could also be covered, if this is done in a mocking or derogatory way.
Police will be able to intervene if they become aware that such an act is planned.
Deputy Prime Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said the Quran-burning protests “serve no other purpose than to provoke for the sake of provocation”.
“This has put Denmark in a difficult foreign policy situation. And the government cannot just sit and watch that,” said Mr Ellemann-Jensen
Books should not be burned – they should be read.”
Sweden is considering whether to bring in a similar ban, after copies of the Quran were burned outside Iraq and Turkey's embassies, Stockholm's main mosque and the Swedish parliament.
Both governments have stressed that they do not support burning the Quran but police decisions to allow protests to go ahead have strained their relations with the Muslim world.
Sweden's embassy in Baghdad was attacked by protesters in one of several counter-demonstrations.
Ministers in Denmark plan to table the bill next month. The government and its supporters have a narrow majority in the 179-member parliament.