A 42-year-old man who filmed himself burning the Quran in Denmark will become the first person in over 40 years to be charged under the Danish blasphemy law.
Denmark is a secular country and the decision has stunned Danes. The country has a long tradition of free speech - even burning the national flag is not a considered a crime in the country.
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The last time someone was charged with blasphemy in Denmark was in 1971, when Danish radio hosts aired a satirical song mocking Christianity. They were found not guilty.
The 42-year-old uploaded a video of him burning the Quran on Facebook as a protest against the presence of Islam in the country. The man’s Facebook page was also full of messages critical of Islam, refugees, and women. The video was posted in December 2015 and the man was charged hate speech last year. The charges were later changed to blasphemy.
The man's lawyer, Rasmus Paludan has argued that his client's burning of the Quran was in “self-defense.”
The lawyer referred to passages from the Quran which Muslim extremists use to justify terrorism against non-Muslims and said his client was acting against the incitement of violence he perceived in these passages.
However, the prosecutor on the case, Jan Reckendorff, said in a statement, “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.”
Danish Criminal Code Section 140 reads, "Those who publicly mock or insult the doctrines or worship of any religious community that is legal in this country, will be punished with a fine or incarceration for up to four months."
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The right-wing Danish People's Party has strongly condemned these charges, saying it would rescind the blasphemy law.
“I’m not going to recommend people burn either Qurans or Bibles. It’s a waste of public resources to spend time on such things,” Peter Kofod Poulsen, the party’s spokesman for legal affairs, told Ritzau, a Danish news agency.
“We have more important things to busy ourselves with in 2017 than to take people to task over burning books.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times