Blasphemy law scrapped as Denmark retains healthy press freedom ranking


In early June 2017, Danish lawmakers scrapped a blasphemy law that had allowed for people convicted of insulting a religion to be jailed for up to four months and fined. Marking an improvement for free speech, the law, which had been on the statute books since the 17th century, was repealed on 2nd June. The MP who opposed the law, Bruno Jerup, said:

"Religion should not dictate what is allowed and what is forbidden to say publicly. It gives religion a totally unfair priority in society".

The boost for free speech comes shortly after Reporters without Borders released its World Press Freedom Index, showing that Denmark's press freedoms have been maintained in a "post-truth" era. Denmark, therefore, retains its position as the fourth best country in the world for press freedom, according to the Index.

In other developments in early May 2017, the Danish government published a blacklist of six foreign religious leaders, including five Muslims and an American pastor, who are accused of spreading hatred. The six have been banned from entering Denmark for at least two years. While the government's tough stance on those accused of spreading hatred has been supported by most lawmakers, it has sparked a debate with some in society claiming it could be the beginning of a "slippery slope". Jacob Mchangama, Director of the think tank Justitia, commented on the bans, stating that: 

"...a person can be put on the list by doing something that would be in breach of the blasphemy paragraph if it happened in Denmark. I think that is quite far-reaching and shows that this can develop in an unpredictable manner".

A new survey has shown that six out of ten Danes approve of increased surveillance, such as CCTV cameras, in public places in order to help prevent terrorism. The results have reignited a debate within political circles in Denmark, with some parties supporting increased surveillance, while others saying the move could lead to "invasions of personal freedom".

Peaceful Assembly

On 17th May 2017, Copenhagen police arrested 25 people for their roles in a violent demonstration in Nørrebro on 1st March. That protest was organised to mark the 10th anniversary of the demolition of the famous "Ungdomshuset", a building that served as a venue for the underground scene and a meeting place for leftist groups until it was torn down in 2007. Local media reported that on 1st March 2017, the protest began peacefully but later became violent when protesters began throwing stones at shops and banks. Police responded by breaking up the demonstration and making arrests. 

A few days previously, on 29th April 2017 more than 1,700 people took to the streets of Copenhagen to demonstrate their opposition to the climate policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, marking 100 days since he took office.