The president of the Danish Free Press Society has been acquitted on racism charges in something of a show trial.
Lars Hedegaard was accused over a statement which was made to a blogger: Girls in Muslim families are raped by their uncles, their cousins, or their fathers.
The court ruled that it does not constitute racism or hate speech explaining that although it found Hedegaard's comments to be insulting, the acquittal was handed down due to the fact that Hedegaard did not know that his controversial comments
would be published.
Hedegaard had previously expressed regret for the statements, which were made during a 35-minute interview at a Christmas party with the author of the blog snaphanen.dk. However, he had maintained that what he said did not constitute racism under
the Danish penal code.
Hedegaard released a statement following his acquittal.
My detractors – the foes of free speech and the enablers of an Islamic ascendancy in the West – will claim that I was acquitted on a technicality, the statement read. That is absolutely true. However, the public
prosecutor has been privy to the circumstances surrounding my case for a year – and yet he chose to prosecute me. Obviously in the hope that he could secure a conviction given the Islamophile sentiment among our ruling classes. My
acquittal is therefore a major victory for free speech.
A gunman has tried to shoot a Danish writer and prominent critic of Islam, but Lars Hedegaard managed to fend off his assailant and was not injured in the attack.
Police said Lars Hedegaard, who heads two groups that claim press freedom is under threat from Islam, was the target of the shooting. A roughly 25-year-old presumably muslim gunman rang the doorbell at the writer's Copenhagen home and when he
opened the door, the gunman fired a shot aimed at his head, but missed.
Hedegaard heads both the Free Press Society and the International Free Press Society. He was fined 5,000 kroner ( £ 570) in 2011 for over-generalising about honour killing in the muslim community.
Denmark's prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, condemned the attack. It is even worse if the attack is rooted in an attempt to prevent Lars Hedegaard using his freedom of expression, she told the Danish news agency Ritzau.
Denmark is one of the most rational and least religious countries in the world. Yet as of this week, it is one of the very few countries in the Western world where a blasphemy law is in active use.
The country's state prosecution service has decided to bring blasphemy charges (and the suggestion of a fine, not a prison term) against a man who burned a copy of the Koran in his garden and then posted the video on an anti-Islamic Facebook
Denmark has considered abolishing blasphemy but a panel of experts recommended in favour of letting the sleeping dog lie. Until this week, the blasphemy law had not been used since 1971, and in fact the last successful prosecution was in 1946.
The Economist commented:
Using the old-fashioned charge of blasphemy (with the implication that religions or philosphical systems have a right to be shielded from attack) is surely the worst possible signal that a liberal democracy could send to a world where trumped-up
or malicious charges of blasphemous behaviour are causing untold suffering, from the cities of Punjab to the villages of Nigeria.
Denmark's blasphemy ban was recently revived when a man was charged for burning the Quran. Signatories argue that an expression grossly offensive to religious believers merits protection as peaceful 'free speech'.
We the undersigned respectfully urge the Danish Parliament to vote in favour of bill L 170 repealing the blasphemy ban in section 140 of the Danish criminal code, punishing "Any person who, in public, ridicules or insults the dogmas or
worship of any lawfully existing religious community".
Denmark is recognized as a global leader when it comes to the protection of human rights and freedom of expression. However, Denmark's blasphemy ban is manifestly inconsistent with the Danish tradition for frank and open debate, and puts Denmark
in the same category as illiberal states where blasphemy laws are being used to silence dissent and persecute minorities. The recent decision to charge a man -- who had burned the Quran -- for violating section 140 for the first time since 1971,
demonstrates that the blasphemy ban is not merely of symbolic value. It represents a significant retrograde step in the protection of freedom of expression in Denmark.
The Danish blasphemy ban is incompatible with both freedom of expression and equality before the law. There is no compelling reason why the feelings of religious believers should receive special protection against offense. In a vibrant and
pluralistic democracy, all issues must be open to even harsh and scathing debate, criticism and satire. While the burning of holy books may be grossly offensive to religious believers it is nonetheless a peaceful form of symbolic expression that
must be protected by free speech.
Numerous Danes have offended the religious feelings of both Christians and Muslims without being charged under section 140. This includes a film detailing the supposed erotic life of Jesus Christ, the burning of the Bible on national TV and the
publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed. The Cartoon affair landed Denmark in a storm of controversy and years of ongoing terrorist threats against journalists, editors and cartoonists. When terror struck in February 2015 the venue
was a public debate on blasphemy and free speech.
In this environment Denmark must maintain that in a liberal democracy laws protect those who offend from threats, not those who threaten from being offended. In this environment Denmark must maintain that in a liberal democracy laws protect those
who offend from threats, not those who threaten from being offended.Retaining the blasphemy ban is also incompatible with Denmark's human rights obligations. In April 2017 Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagtland emphasized that
"blasphemy should not be deemed a criminal offence as the freedom of conscience forms part of freedom of expression". This position is shared by the UN's Human Rights Committee and the EU Guidelines on Freedom of Expression and
Since 2014,The Netherlands, Norway, Iceland and Malta have all abolished blasphemy bans. By going against this trend Denmark will undermine the crucial European and international efforts to repeal blasphemy bans globally.
This has real consequences for human beings, religious and secular, around the globe. In countries like Pakistan, Mauritania, Iran, Indonesia and Russia blasphemy bans are being used against minorities and political and religious dissenters.
Denmark's blasphemy ban can be used to legitimize such laws. In 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief pointed out that "During a conference held in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) [in 2015], the Danish blasphemy provision
was cited by one presenter as an example allegedly indicating an emerging international customary law on "combating defamation of religions".
Blasphemy laws often serve to legitimize violence and terror. In Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh free thinkers, members of religious minorities and atheists have been killed by extremists. In a world where freedom of expression is in retreat and
extremism on the rise, democracies like Denmark must forcefully demonstrate that inclusive, pluralistic and tolerant societies are built on the right to think, believe and speak freely. By voting to repeal the blasphemy ban Denmark will send a
clear signal that it stands in solidarity with the victims and not the enforcers of blasphemy laws.
Jacob Mchangama, Executive director, Justitia
Steven Pinker, Professor Harvard University
Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, Exiled editor of Shuddhashar, 2016 winner International Writer of Courage Award
Pascal Bruckner, Author
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Human Rights Activist Founder of AHA Foundation,
Dr. Elham Manea, academic and human rights advocate (Switzerland)
Sultana Kamal, Chairperson, Centre for Social Activism Bangladesh
Deeyah Khan, CEO @Fuuse & founder @sister_hood_mag.
Fatou Sow, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
William Nygaard, Publisher
Flemming Rose, Author and journalist
Jodie Ginsberg, CEO, Index on Censorship
Kenan Malik, Author of From Fatwa to Jihad
Thomas Hughes, Executive Director Article 19
Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America
Pragna Patel - Director of Southall Black Sisters
Leena Krohn, Finnish writer
Jeanne Favret-Saada, Honorary Professor of Anthropology, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes,
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Fariborz Pooya, Host of Bread and Roses TV
Frederik Stjernfelt, Professor, University of Aalborg in Copenhagen
Marieme Helie Lucas, Secularism Is A Women's Issue
Michael De Dora, Director of Government Affairs, Center for Inquiry
Robyn Blumner, President & CEO, Center for Inquiry
Nina Sankari, Kazimierz Lyszczynski Foundation (Poland).
Sonja Biserko, Founder and president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
James Lindsay, Author
Mahal Mali, Publisher and editor, Areo Magazine
Julie Lenarz - Executive Director, Human Security Centre, London
Terry Sanderson President, National Secular Society
Greg Lukianoff, CEO and President, FIRE
Thomas Cushman, Professor Wellesley College
Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, New York Law School
Simon Cottee, the Freedom Project, Wellesley College
Paul Cliteur, professor of Jurisprudence at Leiden University
Lino Veljak, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Lalia Ducos, Women's Initiative for Citizenship and Universals Rights , WICUR
Lepa Mladjenovic, LC, Belgrade
Elsa Antonioni, Casa per non subire violenza, Bologna
Bobana Macanovic, Autonomos Women's Center, Director, Belgrade
Harsh Kapoor, Editor, South Asia Citizens Web
Mehdi Mozaffari, Professor Em., Aarhus University, Denmark
Øystein Rian, Historian, Professor Emeritus University of Oslo
Kjetil Jakobsen, Professor Nord University
Scott Griffen, Director of Press Freedom Programmes International Press Institute (IPI)
Henryk Broder, Journalist
David Rand, President, Libres penseurs athées, Atheist freethinkers Tom Herrenberg, Lecturer University of Leiden
Simone Castagno, Coordinamento Liguria Rainbow
Laura Caille, Secretary General Libres Mariannes General
Andy Heintz, writer
Bernice Dubois, Conseil Européen des Fédérations WIZO
A Danish man who posted a video of himself burning the Quran on Facebook will not stand trial after politicians abolished an outdated blasphemy law.
The man was seen setting a large leather-bound copy of the holy book alight in a four-minute clip called Consider your neighbour: it stinks when it burns.
He faced up to four months in prison after prosecutors were alerted to the footage, which was posted to a Facebook group called Yes to freedom -- no to Islam in December 2015. They brought blasphemy charges under clause 140 of Denmark's
penal code, which bars people from publicly insulting or degrading religious doctrines or worship.
But the case has been dropped after Danish MPs revoked the 334-year-old legislation, and declared they do not believe that there should be special rules protecting religions against expressions. MP Bruno Jerup told the Jyllands-Posten newspaper:
Religion should not dictate what is allowed and what is forbidden to say publicly. It gives religion a totally unfair priority in society.
Threatening or degrading behaviour based on people's religious beliefs will still be punishable under other Danish laws.