Denmark passes law making it illegal to burn Quran

Desecration of any religious text is now banned in the Scandinavian nation

A protest outside the Swedish Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in July after a string of desecrations of the Quran in Denmark. Getty
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Denmark's parliament passed a new law on Thursday to make it illegal to desecrate any holy text in the country.

It comes after a string of public desecrations of the Quran by a handful of anti-Islam activists, leading to angry demonstrations in some Muslim countries.

The Scandinavian nation has been viewed abroad as a place that permits insults and the denigration of the cultures, religions and traditions of other countries.

The purpose of the law is to counter “the systematic mockery” which, among other things, has contributed to intensifying the threat of terrorism in Denmark, the Justice Ministry said.

“We must protect the security of Denmark and Danes,” Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard said.

“That is why it is important that we now get better protection against the systematic desecrations we have seen for a long time.”

The Folketing, or parliament, adopted the law in a 94-to-77 vote, with eight legislators absent.

The new legislation will make it a crime “to inappropriately treat, publicly or with the intention of dissemination in a wider circle, a writing with significant religious significance for a religious community or an object that appears as such”.

Works of art where “a minor part” includes a desecration, but is part of a larger artistic production, are not covered by the ban.

During a debate lasting more than four hours, left-leaning and far-right parties united against the centre-right government, repeatedly demanding that the three-party coalition that presented the draft on August 25 should take part in the discussion. The government was called “cowards” by the opposition.

Inger Stojberg of the anti-immigration Denmark Democrats said the new law was a bowing-down to countries that “do not share [our] set of values.”

“A restriction of freedom of expression is wrong in a modern and enlightened society like the Danish one,” he said.

This year, activists have staged more than 500 protests, including cases involving the burning of the Quran, in front of embassies of some Muslim countries, places of worship and in immigrant districts.

Denmark has repeatedly distanced itself from the desecrations but has insisted that freedom of expression is one of the most important values in Danish society.

The government said there must “be room for religious criticism” and that there were no plans to reintroduce a blasphemy clause that was repealed in 2017.

Oussama Elsaadi, an iman with a mosque in Denmark's second-largest city Aarhus, told the BT newspaper that it was “a good message to all Muslims”.

“Burning of the Quran is an offence to others,” he said, according to BT. “You may express yourself as you wish, but not in such a way that you destroy other people’s lives.”

In 2006, Denmark was at the centre of widespread anger in the Muslim world after a local newspaper posted 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, including one wearing a bomb as a turban.

Muslims consider images of the prophet to be sacrilegious and encouraging of idolatry. The images escalated into violent anti-Denmark protests by Muslims worldwide.

Those who breach the new law face fines or up to two years in prison.

Before it takes effect, Denmark's figurehead monarch Queen Margrethe needs to formally sign it. That is expected to happen later this month.

Updated: December 08, 2023, 8:07 AM