A man who burned the Islamic holy book in his backyard has been charged with blasphemy, in a move his lawyer speculates was driven by fear of Muslim extremists. The attempted prosecution is the first of its kind in nearly 50 years.
The 42-year-old man from Jutland uploaded video footage of a Quran being lit on fire, which he posted to a Facebook group called ‘Yes to freedom – no to Islam’ in December last year.
“It is the prosecution’s view that circumstances involving the burning of holy books such as the Bible and the Quran can, in certain cases, be a violation of the blasphemy clause, which covers public scorn or mockery of religion,” said chief prosecutor Jan Reckendorff in a statement.
“It is our opinion that the circumstances of this case mean it should be prosecuted so the courts now have an opportunity to take a position on the matter.”
The defendant’s lawyer, Rasmus Paludan, said that his client had burned the Quran in self-defense, asserting that the Islamic holy book “contains passages on how Mohammed’s followers must kill the infidel, i.e. the Danes”.
“Therefore, it’s an act of self-defense to burn a book that in such a way incites war and violence,” he told the New York Times.
Noting that it’s “legal to burn a Bible in Denmark”, highlighting how in 1997 a Danish artist set fire to and burned a copy of the Bible on state television in Denmark but was not charged, Mr Paludan said he is “surprised that it would be guilty to burn the Quran.”
“The fear of Islam and Muslims may be far greater now, and the prosecution service may be a lot more apprehensive of Islam and its followers,” he added, speculating on the prosecutor’s decision to bring charges in this case.
Under clause 140 of Denmark’s criminal code, anyone found guilty of publicly insulting or degrading religious doctrines can be imprisoned or fined, but only four blasphemy prosecutions have ever been attempted in the country.
The last was in 1971 when two Denmark Radio producers broadcast a song mocking broadcast a song mocking Christianity but were acquitted since the court found the song to be a contribution to the debate on the religious views of the sexuality of women.
Two people were previously fined in 1946 after a man dressed as a priest and carried out a mock baptism at a ball in Copenhagen, while four others were sentenced for putting up anti-Semitic posters and leaflets in 1938.
A number of other cases have been considered without being charged, the most controversial of which came in 2006 when the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 satirical cartoons under the title “The Face of Mohamed”.
The depictions outraged many Muslims around the world and led to deadly riots in which as many as 200 people are reported to have been killed.