COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A new law was passed in the Danish parliament on Thursday making the desecration of any holy texts in the country illegal, after a series of public desecrations of the Koran by a handful of anti-Islam activists recently caused a stir in demonstrations in Muslim countries.

The Scandinavian nation is viewed abroad as a place that facilitates insults and denigration of other countries’ cultures, religions and traditions. The aim of the law is to counteract “the systematic ridicule” that has, among other things, contributed to increasing the threat of terrorism in Denmark, the Justice Ministry said.

The Folketing or Parliament passed the law with 94 votes to 77, eight MPs were not present. The new legislation makes it a criminal offense to “treat inappropriately, publicly or with the intention of disseminating to a wider audience, a written work with significant religious significance for a religious community or an object that appears to be such.” Works of art where “a small part” involves desecration but is part of a larger artistic production are not subject to the ban.

During the more than four-hour debate, left-wing and right-wing extremist parties united against the center-right government and repeatedly called for the three-party coalition that presented the draft on August 25 to be involved in the discussion. The government said nothing and was called “cowards” by the opposition.

“Is Iran changing its legislation because Denmark is offended by something an Iranian might do?” Is Pakistan? Does Saudi Arabia? The answer is no,” asked Karina Lorentzen from the Socialist People’s Party rhetorically. Inger Støjberg of the anti-immigrant Danish Democrats said the new law was a capitulation to Islam and a bow to countries that “do not share our values.”

“Restricting freedom of expression is wrong in a modern and enlightened society like Denmark’s,” said Støjberg.

This year alone, activists have staged more than 500 protests, including Koran burnings, in front of embassies of Muslim countries, places of worship and in immigrant neighborhoods.

Denmark has repeatedly distanced itself from the desecrations but insisted that freedom of expression is one of the most important values ​​in Danish society. The government said there must be “room for religious criticism” and there are no plans to reintroduce a blasphemy clause that was repealed in 2017.

In 2006, Denmark was at the center of widespread anger in the Muslim world after a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, including one wearing a bomb as a turban. Muslims view images of the Prophet as sacrilege and promote idolatry. The images escalated into violent anti-Denmark protests by Muslims worldwide.

Anyone who violates the new law faces fines or up to two years in prison. Before it comes into force, Denmark’s figurehead, Queen Margrethe, must officially sign it. This is expected to happen later this month.

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