Denmark previously attempted to banish the law criminalising blasphemy, unsuccessfully
Liberal Party joined a majority of legislators who desire abolishing it
Trial of Danish man who burned Koran in Facebook video sparked debate concerning the law after criticism.
‘Religion should not dictate what is allowed and what is forbidden to say publicly’, says MP who proposed the repeal
Danish lawmakers yesterday abolished the crime of blasphemy, an offence that has rarely been prosecuted, but where the law had remained on the books. The 334-year-old blasphemy law forbade public insults of a religion, such as the burning of holy books.
The Danish Parliament voted 75 to 27 to abolish the law that had remained largely inactive for a 100 years.
Opposition came solely from members of the Social Democrats who voted against the move. Violating the blasphemy law could lead to a four-month prison sentence or a fine.
Only a handful of blasphemy trials have taken place since 1938, and several notable cases have been quashed including the caricature of the prophet Mohammed published in the Jyllands – Posten newspaper in 2005.
However, the Justice Ministry said that statements or actions that “threaten, mock or denigrate” groups due to their religion remained punishable.
Bryno Jerup of the opposition Red-Green Alliance party, which launched the proposal to abolish the country’s blasphemy law, said, “This means that we can have a freer and less prejudiced discussion about religions.’’
A case had been pending against 42-year-old John Salvesen who, in December 2015, posted a clip on Facebook that showed him burning the Quran in his garden.
The video was shared on the group “Yes to Freedom – No to Islam.”
‘I used my democratic right: freedom of speech,’ Salvesen said ahead of his one-day trial. ‘I was deeply surprised when they told me I had been charged with blasphemy.’
A criminal investigation into the incident has been opened, but with the law scrapped, the charges against the man are to be dropped. Commenting on the charges being dropped, Attorney General Jan Reckendorff said in a statement,
“The legislature decided to repeal the Penal Code blasphemy clause on public mockery or scorn against a religion. Blasphemy was exactly the core of the charges against the 42-year-old. With his actions no longer being a criminal offense we cannot carry out the planned criminal proceedings, which are therefore canceled. The accused will not be punished.”
For many Danes, the debate conjures up the anti-Danish rallies that took place in predominantly Muslim countries after the Jyllands-Posten daily invited cartoonists to draw the prophet.
The Jyllands-Posten cartoons crisis started after it printed 12 editorial cartoons in an article entitled “The face of Mohammad” which was published on Sept. 30, 2005. More than 500 people were killed in predominately Muslim countries during the riots sparked by the publication.
Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet for fear it could lead to idolatry.
The harsh reactions came six months after the daily published 12 cartoons in September 2005, and authorities in Denmark had concluded that no laws had been violated.
Years later, one of the cartoonists survived an assault at his home by an ax-wielding man.
Denmark’s PET intelligence agency says it has foiled attacks, including at least one against the newspaper.
‘Some fear the cartoon crisis could flare up again,’ said Jacob Mchangama, head of Copenhagen-based think tank Justitia.