The planned law will make improper treatment of the Quran or Bible a criminal offence punishable by a fine, and jail sentence of up to two years.
The Danish government on Friday unveiled a proposed legislation designed to ban the public burning of holy books in the country, after a string of provocative incidents targeting the Quran.
The provocations have sparked protests in Muslim countries and drew mounting condemnations from major Muslim governments around the world, prompting Denmark to address the issue in parliament.
Denmark’s Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen told Danish radio that the latest move conveys an “important political signal” to the global community.
Under the proposed legislation, mistreatment of the holy Quran, the Bible, or the Torah will be categorised as a criminal act that could lead to a fine and a prison term lasting up to two years.
Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard clarified that the intended law is meant to be incorporated into the existing regulation that prohibits the desecration of flags of other countries.
The Danish law, he said, would prohibit the “improper treatment of objects of significant religious significance to a religious community.”
A long and reoccurring chain of incidents in which copies of the holy Quran were burned in different parts of Europe, like Sweden, has ignited outrage across the Muslim world.
Hummelgaard remarked during a press conference described the incidents as “senseless taunts” designed to foster “discord and hatred.” He went on to mention that safeguarding national security was the foremost “motivation” behind the decision to implement the ban.
“We can’t continue to stand by with our arms crossed while several individuals do everything they can to provoke violent reactions,” Hummelgaard said.
It is unclear when the proposal will be put forward to the 179-seat Danish parliament.
Blasphemy laws in Denmark
In 2017, Denmark, recognised as one of the world’s most secular nations, eliminated laws related to blasphemy. Similarly, Sweden, which has also permitted the desecration of the Quran in recent months, also lacks active blasphemy laws.
The unwarranted provocations, viewed as offensive by the Muslim community, have caused distress in multiple nations, prompting calls for European governments to respond more decisively and prevent such occurrences.
In July, a wave of demonstrators targeted the Swedish embassy in Baghdad in response to a Quran burning stunt near the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm.
While the Swedish government has recently dismissed the idea of substantial modifications to its freedom of speech regulations, it reiterated its commitment to exploring options that would empower law enforcement to intervene in public instances of holy book burning, provided there is an evident risk to national security.
According to recent research, only 38% of Swedes want the burning of the holy Quran to be banned in Sweden.
Almost four out of 10 of Swedes support prohibiting the burning of the Swedish flag and the sacred texts of the three major world religions. Notably, around 50% of Swedes (every second Swede) are opposed to such a ban, research company Novus gathered.
Qatar speaks up
The increase in Quran burning stunts have pushed a number of Muslim countries to respond on a public level.
Qatar’s Minister of State for International Cooperation Lolwah Al Khater addressed the concerning lack of accountability when it comes to hate speech targeted at religious groups, particularly Muslims.
“As for the position of some European governments towards facilitating and even enabling the recurrence of such incidents with legal claims related to the discourse of freedoms and individual rights, we stand bewildered.”
“There has been accumulated evidence from far and wide that this criterion is nothing but selective. These countries strictly prohibit by legislation or custom, for example but not limited to, anti-Semitic speech and acts,” she said.
She stressed the need for consistency in tackling discrimination and prejudice and called for a resolute stance against Islamophobia, echoing her sentiment with the phrase “By the same token STOP ISLAMOPHOBIA.”
Earlier this year, European states voted against a key UN resolution that condemned the burning of the Quran as a religious hate act. Despite this, the UN adopted the resolution after an overwhelming majority voted in favour of the motion.