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Jacob Mchangama, director of Justitia, a Danish civil liberties group, called the decision to file charges the latest sign of a declining respect for free speech in Europe. “It’s a sad development but one that mirrors developments elsewhere,” he said.
Mr. Mchangama said he thought the prosecutor was motivated by a desire to fend off the threat of terrorist attacks. “Danish authorities are afraid that the Quran burning could spark a new crisis, and if they say that they’ve actually charged this person, this is a way to appease or at least avoid such a crisis,” he said.
Blasphemy laws protect religious dogma from ridicule, and therefore the feelings of believers, Mr. Mchangama argues, while hate speech laws protect religious groups from degrading expressions.
Denmark is one of only five countries in the European Union that has a blasphemy law on the books. Some say the case could lead to a rallying cry to abandon such laws once and for all.
“One might speculate that this is one more straw on the back of the camel, so that more politicians will be in the favor of abolishing the law,” said Per Mouritsen, a professor of political science at Aarhus University. Danes, he said, generally believe that “Muslims should be able to stand up to ridicule as much as Christians would routinely put up with, and that everyone should take a joke.”
Mr. Mouritsen, noting the 1997 decision not to prosecute, asked, “Why should this all of a sudden be an issue, when everybody agrees that the blasphemy law is a thing of the past?”
The decision to press charges was condemned by the right-wing, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, which said it would push to rescind the blasphemy law.
“I’m not going to recommend people burn either Qurans or Bibles, but 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.”
But Trine Bramsen, a member of Parliament and a spokeswoman of the Social Democrats, an opposition party, defended the blasphemy law. “I struggle to see how that we’ll achieve a stronger society, or how we’ll enrich the public debate, if the burning of holy books was permitted,” she told Ritzau.
The 2005 cartoon controversy was followed by deadly attacks that have left Western Europe deeply shaken.
In 2010, Kurt Westergaard, who had drawn a cartoon for Jyllands-Posten that showed Muhammad with a bomb in a black turban, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, fleeing into a safe room at his home in the port city of Aarhus to escape a young Somali armed with an ax and a knife. In 2013, Lars Hedegaard, an outspoken critic of Islam and a defender of Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist who had lampooned Muhammad, was shot at outside his Copenhagen home by a gunman disguised as a postal worker.
In January 2015, 12 people died an assault on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had lampooned Islam. The next month, the police in Copenhagen shot and killed a man after he killed someone outside a synagogue and sprayed bullets into a cafe where Mr. Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist, was speaking.
In Denmark, “the very idea that religion is taken seriously is the antithesis of being a good citizen,” said Mr. Mouritsen, the political scientist. “This is very important.”