Denmark makes burning Koran illegal

Denmark makes burning Koran illegal

New law a response to security concerns but free-speech advocates are unhappy

An Indonesian man reads the Koran at an Islamic boarding school in South Tangerang, near Jakarta, in April 2021. (Photo: Reuters)
An Indonesian man reads the Koran at an Islamic boarding school in South Tangerang, near Jakarta, in April 2021. (Photo: Reuters)

COPENHAGEN - Denmark’s parliament passed a bill on Thursday that makes it illegal to burn copies of the Koran in public places, after protests in Muslim nations over the desecration of Islam’s holy book raised Danish security concerns.

Denmark and Sweden experienced a series of public protests this year where anti-Islam activists burned or otherwise damaged copies of the Koran, sparking tensions with Muslims and triggering demands that the Nordic governments ban the practice.

Domestic critics in Sweden and Denmark have argued that any limitations on criticising religion, including by burning Korans, undermine hard-fought liberal freedoms in the region.

Denmark’s centrist coalition government has argued that the new rules will have only a marginal impact on free speech and that criticising religion in other ways remains legal.

Between July 21 and October 24 this year, 483 book burnings or flag burnings were recorded in Denmark, according to national police figures.

After one Koran burning in Copenhagen in late July, nearly 1,000 protesters attempted to march to the Danish embassy in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, following a call by firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Denmark’s government said at the time that the resulting tensions posed a threat to national security.

An earlier draft of the new bill was criticised by some — including politicians, artists, media and freedom of speech experts — who saw it as a return to a blasphemy law that Denmark abolished in 2017.

Police and judicial officials also feared it would be difficult to enforce.

“With the changes we are now proposing, the law will be easier to navigate — including for the police and the courts,” Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard said in October.

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