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Denmark Prosecutes Man For Blasphemy After Burning Quran

REUTERS/Amit Dave

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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Danish authorities have charged a 42-year-old man with an archaic and seldom enforced blasphemy law after he burned a Quran.

The man, whose name has been withheld per Danish law, was charged by regional prosecutor Jan Rechendorff under Denmark’s 1866 blasphemy law. Denmark’s attorney general later signed off on the charge. The charge is considered unusual, given Denmark’s tradition of free speech.

“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 Reckendorff in a statement.

The accused man’s lawyer, Rasmus Paludan, defended his client’s burning of the Islamic holy book as “self defense,” according to a report by the New York Times.

“The Quran contains passages on how Mohammed’s followers must kill the infidel, i.e. the Danes,” said Paludan. “Therefore, it’s an act of self-defense to burn a book that in such a way incites war and violence.”

Paludan speculated that his client was charged due to the Danish government’s fear of Muslims.

“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 explained.

The alleged crime in question involved a video posted to a Facebook group called “Yes to Freedom — No to Islam” Dec. 27, 2015 by a man calling himself John Salvesen.

“Consider your neighbor, it stinks when it burns,” read the words above the posted video.

Danish authorities initially charged the man with hate speech last year, but changed the charge to blasphemy Wednesday. He will be tried in June and, if convicted, could face up to four in prison or a fine.

Paludan told reporters that a Danish artist burned a Bible on state television in 1997, yet the blasphemy law was not invoked.

“Considering that it is legal to burn a Bible in Denmark, I’m surprised then that it would be guilty to burn Koran,” he told NYT in a phone interview.

Denmark’s blasphemy law is rarely used by prosecutors. It was last used in 1971, when two individuals were charged for broadcasting a song ridiculing Christianity. They were later acquitted. The last successful prosecution came in 1946, after a man dressed as a priest engaged in the mock baptism of a doll at a masquerade ball.

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