After a series of Quran burnings in Scandinavia caused uproar in Muslim communities, Denmark on Thursday banned the “improper treating” of religious texts in public.
Under a new law passed by Parliament, those found guilty of the crime can be fined or sentenced to up to two years in prison.
“Quran burnings must be stopped,” Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard, who presented the law, said on Instagram on Thursday. “We must protect the security of Denmark and the Danes.”
Desecration of the Quran is now banned both in the public space and in private if the act is recorded and distributed.
Like Sweden, Denmark in recent months has struggled to balance a deep-rooted commitment to free speech against the anger and outrage the burnings have caused in Muslim-majority countries, whose governments have condemned the acts. Governments in both Sweden and Denmark have said that the risk of terrorist attacks has risen in recent months.
With anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment widespread, there have been more than 500 demonstrations in Denmark in recent months, Mr. Hummelgaard said, including some where the Quran was burned.
A small group of nationalists in Denmark who filmed themselves burning what they said was a Quran, and at least two public desecrations of the Quran in Sweden, provoked assaults on the countries’ embassies in Iraq and led to their diplomats being summoned by Iranian authorities.
The Danish authorities said that the burnings put the country in a difficult diplomatic situation, and that the government could not just sit idle. They called the law a targeted intervention intended to protect the security of Danes abroad and at home.
“The terrorist threat level against Denmark is alarmingly high,” said a spokesman for the Moderates party, which is part of the coalition government. “This law is introduced out of necessity, not out of desire.”
But the measure was sharply criticized by opponents, including the right-wing Liberal Alliance party. Steffen Larsen, a Liberal Alliance lawmaker, said during a heated debate in Parliament on Thursday that it was a product of “political correctness” and that it was “designed to restrain the freedom of speech and the artistic freedom.”
The measure, Mr. Larsen said, is “nothing to be proud of.”
Nina Palesa Bonde, a deputy judge at the Copenhagen District Court, also criticized the ban, arguing on social media that it protected a text that “is used as a death sentence for women, Jews, homosexuals in many countries.”
Mr. Hummelgaard offered assurances that the new law does not forbid criticism of religion or satirical drawings. But he said that while a broad space should be allowed for religious criticism, “destroying books is not a very intelligent way to criticize something you don’t like.”
The Swedish government is also investigating ways to prevent the burning of the Quran, including by expanding an existing public order law that would allow the police to deny a demonstration permit on the grounds that it could pose a threat to Sweden’s security, said Nils Funcke, a free speech expert based in Stockholm.
Christina Anderson contributed reporting.