Blasphemy Laws Return to Denmark
Unbelief Brief
December 18, 2023
First reported to be an object of consideration months ago, the Danish government has finally passed its bill banning public desecrations of scripture.

Long-overdue release of Nigerian blasphemy accused

Two weeks ago, the Nigerian legal system appeared to be dragging its feet in the case of Rhoda Jatau, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy and detained for the same crime after she spoke up in condemnation of the lynching of Deborah Yakubu, also on blasphemy accusations. 

It now appears, however, after 18 long months of detention (still 18 too many), that Jatau is safe for the time being. Several news outlets have reported that she has been released from her imprisonment, and this has been confirmed by official bodies including the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Jatau is now reportedly in an “undisclosed location” due to the danger to her life that yet remains.

The fact that she was ever arrested is a travesty and a stain on Kano State and Nigeria more broadly. As in so many other cases, more than a year of her life was stolen by the brutality of a state government with frenzied theocratic impulses and a central government which refuses to rein it in. The fact that this situation makes her “one of the lucky ones” who face such situations is a moral disgrace—but, all the same, her overdue release is welcome.

Denmark passes scripture-burning law

First reported to be an object of consideration months ago, the Danish government has finally passed its bill banning public desecrations of scripture which holds significance for any religious community. The law covers scriptures for all religions recognized by the nation, but it is functionally a “Qur’an burning ban,” as repeated instances of Qur’an burning are what spurred its enactment in the first place. Those who violate the law can face fines—and up to two years in prison.

Thus, Denmark—a nation which just six years ago repealed an antiquated and unenforced blasphemy law in a commendable act of championing freedom of expression—is once again ruled by a blasphemy law. However narrow this particular law’s focus, the Danish government has re-opened Pandora’s Box just when they finally had managed to close it. 

The law was purportedly made necessary by unrest, domestic and international, that a spate of Qur’an burnings this year had caused. But wasn’t the same also true for the controversial Jyllands-Posten cartoons of 2005? Isn’t the same also true any time someone prominent in Denmark voices criticisms of Islamic doctrines?

With this new law, Denmark now has both the political potential and the necessary justification for new blasphemy legislation later on—and it is a shocking and extremely disappointing reversal for a country that has refused religious pressures to bend on freedom of expression in the past. 

Six teens convicted in Samuel Paty case

In 2020, French schoolteacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in broad daylight after being accused of blaspheming Islam. Specifically, he was accused of showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class, during a lesson on freedom of expression, and asking Muslim students to leave the room before he showed the drawings.

Now, six teenagers have been convicted in the case, five for engaging in a conspiracy that resulted in the attacker being able to murder Paty, and one for lying about the detail of Paty asking Muslim students to leave the room (she was not present in class that day)—a key detail in the campaign of outrage against the teacher which was then organized.

France 24 reports:

Five of the teens on trial, who were 14 or 15 at the time of Paty's murder, were being tried for criminal conspiracy with intent to cause violence.

They were accused of having been on the lookout for Paty and identifying him to the killer in exchange for money. 

Four of them received suspended sentences of between 14 and 18 months.

The fifth was sentenced to two years in prison, but 18 months of that was suspended and the teenager will be released with an electronic tag for the remaining six months.

A sixth teenager, a girl who was 13 at the time, was accused of false allegations for wrongly saying that Paty had asked Muslim students to identify themselves and leave the classroom before he showed the cartoons. She was not present in the class.

She received an 18-month suspended sentence.

Thus none will serve jail time. The family and their lawyers have reportedly found these verdicts far too lenient, reacting with “anger, disappointment, and incomprehension.”

Parents who organized a protest campaign against Paty will be tried separately for incitement sometime next year.

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