Denmark’s parliament on Thursday adopted a law criminalising the “inappropriate treatment” of religious texts, effectively banning burning of the Holy Quran after a series of desecrations of the holy book sparked anger in Muslim countries over the summer.
The bill, which prohibits “inappropriate treatment of writings with significant religious importance for a recognised religious community”, was passed with 94 votes in favour and 77 opposed in the 179-seat Folketing.
“We must protect the security of Denmark and the Danes. Therefore, it is important that we now have better protection against the systematic insults we have seen for a long time,” Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard said in a statement.
In practical terms, it will be forbidden to burn, tear, or otherwise defile holy texts publicly or in videos intended to be disseminated widely. Those who break the law, which will be evaluated after three years, risk a fine or up to two years in prison.
According to the Associated Press, works of art where “a minor part” includes a desecration, but is part of a larger artistic production, is not covered by the ban.
Over the summer, Denmark and neighbouring Sweden became the focus of anger across several Muslim countries after a slew of protests involving burnings and desecrations of the Holy Quran.
Nearly a thousand protesters attempted to march to the Danish embassy in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone in late July following a call by firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr.
In response to the worsened security situation, the Scandinavian country temporarily tightened border controls, but returned to normal on August 22.
Between July 21 and October 24 this year, 483 book burnings or flag burnings were recorded in Denmark, according to national police figures.
Initially announced at the end of August, the bill was amended following criticism that its first draft limited freedom of expression and would be difficult to enforce.
It was originally planned to cover objects of significant religious importance. The first draft of the 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.
Sweden, too, is considering ways to legally limit desecrations of the Holy Quran but is taking a different approach than Denmark. It is looking into whether police should factor in national security when deciding on applications for public protests.