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Denmark hits Koran burner with its ancient blasphemy law

Denmark hits Koran burner with its ancient blasphemy law

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

13 responses to “Denmark hits Koran burner with its ancient blasphemy law”

  1. barriejohn says:

    What the fucking hell does he mean by “holy books”? Have they put the clock back a thousand years in Denmark?

  2. RussellW says:

    “Imagine that we protected ideologies in the same way”.

    For the umpteenth time, religions are ideologies. Sprinkling Christianity or Islam with magic fairy dust doesn’t make any difference, they’re still ideologies invented by human beings.

  3. L.Long says:

    Know how to make a country into a isLame theocracy?? Do this!

  4. 1859 says:

    ‘Where books are burnt, in the end people will burn,’ Heine (1938)

  5. 1859 says:

    Heine wrote these words in 1828, but they have since been inscribed in Albaniplatz, Goettingen, where in 1938 Nazis thugs ransacked a private library and burnt an enormous pile of books accusing them of being ‘Entartete Literatur’ (‘degenerate literature’). Heine died in 1856.

  6. barriejohn says:

    @1859: I pulped my extensive library of religious books, rather than donate them to the Oxfam Bookshop, to prevent them damaging other minds as they had my own, and I am sure that I did the right thing. I would gladly have made a bonfire of them and danced around it – Darby, Kelly, Bellet, Coates, Pollock, Mackintosh, and that crackpot Bullinger: go to hell!

  7. Retty says:

    And I thought the Danish were better than this. But I suppose that the Danes have seen very well what happens when muslims are “insulted”. Draw and publish a cartoon of mo fucking ham head … penalty … extreme violence,murder and global collaboration of scumbag imams to whip up emotions and spread the hate.lslam … pure evil … the dogma of those who love to be hated and reviled. The dogma of self hating beggared immoral stupefied wasters.

  8. Laura Roberts says:

    Personally I think a better way to turn people away from religion is simply to shine a light on the vile Biblical or Koranic passages that believers love to ignore. Burning books (or hard drives
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeAr01hzG30) may be cathartic — especially when believers take the bait and throw tantrums — but it’s probably ineffective in the long run.

  9. JJones says:

    “a violation of the blasphemy clause, which covers public scorn or mockery of religion”.

    Yes … but thats an action that should be praised and rewarded with national and international, approbation.

  10. JJones says:

    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.

    Just look at those dates and you can clearly see that the pious have had their hands around the throat of free speech, the cornerstone of secular democracy, for far far far too long.

    Come on Denmark. Cast of the retarding dead weight of theocratic bullies. Do it now. For all our sakes.

    The koran, bible and the torah need ridicule and contempt to be heaped upon them.

  11. Paul says:

    So he’s more likely an islamic bigot (for arguments sake let us accept and agree there is no blasphemy by his action). So like for like he has an opinion on the koran and on the contrary islam demands – won’t even tolerate but demands – that non believers should be treated with utter contempt and worse such as be killed (as directed in the koran).
    In a democracy which one makes a fairer life for us all?
    And he is the bigot?
    Have I missed anything out.

  12. Brian Jordan says:

    Whether or not to burn books is a separate matter. As would be the question of whether he should be charged with some variety of “hate”. The chap was accused of “a violation of the blasphemy clause, which covers public scorn or mockery of religion.”
    No even just mockery – scorn is quite enough to get him sent down. No doubt if he’d marched with a sign saying “Wotan is a numpty” or “The Flying Spaghetti Monster has no balls” he could also be sent down for three months. But maybe not – it has to be a “legal” religion. So perhaps worshipers of Wotan or devotees of the FSM could be sent down under a separated law, for NOT scorning or mocking their own religions, if they should be deemed illegal?
    The fact is, blasphemy laws are just self-serving stitch-ups.

  13. Newspaniard says:

    We used to have blasphemy laws in the UK and they were abolished. Hurray! A few days later, the Home Secretary (a religious fundie), introduced new laws which are far more draconian than the “abolished” blasphemy laws. BOO! Isn’t it wonderful living in a democracy in the 21st Century with sharia courts popping up all over the country like mushrooms?