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Quran burnings For Members

Why Norway's government has ruled out a Quran burning ban

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
Why Norway's government has ruled out a Quran burning ban
Norway will not change its freedom of expression laws to prohibit the burning of the Quran. File photo: Norway's Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt attends a conference. (Photo by HANNAH MCKAY / POOL / AFP)

Norway will not change its freedom of expression laws to prohibit the burning of the Quran, its foreign minister has said. However, those who damage the holy text can still be charged with hate speech.

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A series of high-profile Quran burnings in Sweden and Denmark have made headlines worldwide and angered the governments of a number of Muslim countries in recent weeks. 

In Norway, burning the Quran is permitted under freedom of speech laws. Norway's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anniken Huitfeldt, has said that the government has no plans to change legislation to prohibit burning of the text. 

"The government has no plans to change Norwegian regulations today," she told the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen

"Both the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and I have clearly emphasised that we distance ourselves from Quran burning. The government stands up against hatred of Muslims," she said. 

She added that the consideration of freedom of expression weighed heavily in such matters and that the government would defend freedom of speech, even when it strongly disagrees with the messages. 

The country's Justice Minister, Emilie Enger Mehl, has previously outlined in parliament that the criticism of religion is protected by freedom of expression and that burning holy texts can be considered a form criticism. 

"Criticism of religion that is expressed through symbolic actions, such as burning the Quran, will not be punishable even if the means used are offensive and revolting," she told parliament in June. 

However, those who burn the Quran in Norway can be punished under hate speech laws. Section 185 of Norway's criminal code outlines hate speech as something which threatens, mocks, promotes hatred, persecution or contempt towards someone because of, among other things, their religion. 

Therefore authorities and courts must assess whether the burning is a criticism of Islam or whether it incites hatred or contempt towards Muslims.

Sweden and Denmark have seen several protests in recent weeks in which copies of the Quran have been burned or damaged, prompting outrage in Muslim countries and demands that the governments in Denmark and Sweden put a stop to the burnings. 

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The governments in Sweden and Denmark have both condemned the burnings but currently cannot prevent the act under constitutional laws protecting freedom of speech. 

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Both governments have said they will explore legal tools to prevent the burnings, with politicians opposed to the changes in both countries claiming such moves would impede freedom of speech.

Norway has not seen any high-profile protests in the form of Quran burning since last summer. The Islamophobic group Stop the Islamisation of Norway (SIAN) has held several protests where the Quran has been burned since 2019. 

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However, it has also had several protests blocked due to security concerns. It applied to carry out a demonstration in front of the Turkish embassy in Oslo in February but saw its protest application turned down. 

"Based on the information we have, the police have assessed whether the police can ensure security around the protest. After an overall assessment, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot ensure security in a satisfactory manner at this event," police inspector Martin Stand from the Oslo police district said in February

Its extremist leader, Lars Thorsen, has previously been convicted of hate speech in 2019 and having pepper sprayed counter-protestors in 2022. 

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