Denmark passes bill to stop Koran burnings

By Louise Rasmussen

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) -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.

Denmark sought to strike a balance between contitutionally protected freedom of speech, including the right to criticise religion, and national security amid fears that Koran burnings would trigger attacks by Islamists.

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.

“History will judge us harshly for this, and with good reason… What it all comes down to is whether a restriction on freedom of speech is determined by us, or whether it is dictated from the outside,” said Inger Stojberg, leader of the anti-immigration Denmark Democrats party, who opposed the ban.

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.

Breaking the new law would be punishable by fines or up to two years in prison, the government has said.

   Sweden, too, is considering ways to legally limit Koran desecrations 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.

(Reporting by Louise Breusch Rasmussen and Anna Ringstrom, editing by Terje Solsvik)