COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The Danish government on Friday said it will propose a law that would make it illegal to desecrate any holy book in Denmark, where a recent string of public desecrations of the Quran by a handful of anti-Islam activists has sparked angry demonstrations in Muslim countries.
Denmark has been viewed as a country that facilitates insults and denigration of the cultures, religions and traditions of other countries, the government said.
The center-right government seeks to extend Denmark’s existing ban on burning foreign flags by also “prohibiting improper treatment of objects of significant religious significance to a religious community,” Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard said.
“The bill will make it punishable, for example, to burn the Quran or the Bible in public. It will only aim at actions in a public place or with the intention of spreading in a wider circle,” Hummelgaard said. He said such acts would be punishable by fines or up to two years in prison.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the charge d’affaires of the Danish Embassy five times in the past week to protest the desecration of the Quran in Denmark, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
Hummelgaard told a news conference that the recent protests were “senseless taunts that have no other purpose than to create discord and hatred.”
Denmark’s government has repeatedly distanced itself from the desecrations, but has insisted that freedom of expression is one of the most important values in Danish society. It said that would not be affected by the proposed law.
Freedom of expression is “a cornerstone of Danish democracy, and the freedom to express oneself is a central value in Danish society,” Hummelgaard said. The proposal is “a targeted intervention which does not change the fact that freedom of expression must have a very broad framework in Denmark,” he said.
Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said there have been more than 170 protests, including many with Quran burnings, in front of the embassies of Muslim countries, and that the proposed change is “an important political signal that Denmark wants to send out to the world.”
Last month, he said the government would seek to legally prevent burnings of the Quran or other religious scriptures, but added that there must “be room for religious criticism” and that there were no plans to reintroduce a blasphemy clause that was repealed in 2017.
The bill will be presented to lawmakers on Sept. 1 and will be “dealt with if necessary before the end of the parliamentary year,” which is before Christmas, the Justice Ministry said.
The bill will not cover verbal or written statements, including drawings, the government said.
The many Quran burnings have changed the minds of at least one party outside the government. The center-left Social Liberal party that has seven seats in the 179-seat parliament had been opposed to a tightening of the law.
“But there have been over 100 Quran burnings over the past few months with the sole purpose of creating discord and uncertainty,” party spokesman Christian Friis Bach said. “We back the proposal.”
In 2006, Denmark was at the center of widespread anger in the Muslim world after a newspaper posted 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, including one wearing a bomb as a turban.
Muslims consider images of the prophet to be sacrilegious and encouraging idolatry. The images escalated into violent anti-Denmark protests by Muslims worldwide.
Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.