Denmark saw protests where anti-Islam activists burned copies of the Quran (File)
Denmark's parliament on Thursday passed a law making it illegal to burn the Quran in public places, seeking to deescalate tensions with Muslim countries after a spate of Danish protests during which Islam's holy book was burned, causing outrage.
Denmark and Sweden experienced a series of public protests this year where anti-Islam activists burned or otherwise damaged copies of the Quran, triggering demands that the Nordic governments ban the practice.
According to Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard, more than 500 demonstrations that included burnings of the Quran or flags were registered since July.
"Such demonstrations can hurt Denmark's relations to other nations, our interests and ultimately our safety," Hummelgaard said.
Denmark has sought to strike a balance between constitutionally protected freedom of speech, including the right to criticise religion, and national security amid fears that Quran burnings would trigger attacks by Islamists.
Domestic critics in Sweden and Denmark have argued that any limitations on criticising religion, including by burning Qurans, undermine hard-fought liberal freedoms in the region.
"History will judge us harshly for this, and with good reason," said Inger Stojberg, leader of the anti-immigration Denmark Democrats party. "What it all comes down to is whether a restriction on freedom of speech is determined by us, or whether it is dictated from the outside."
Denmark's centrist coalition government has argued that the new rules will have only a marginal impact on free speech and that criticising religion in other ways remains legal.
The vote followed a five-hour debate in parliament and 94 members voted in favour, 77 against.
Breaking the new law will be punishable by fines or up to two years in prison, the government has said.
Sweden is also considering how to prevent the burning of the Quran but is looking at whether police should factor in national security when deciding on protest applications rather than a ban.
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