Supreme Court of Denmark: Lars Hedegaard Not Guilty of Publicly Insulting Islam, Because His Comments Weren’t Public

Karen Lugo (National Review Online) has the most thorough English-language account that I’ve seen:

While deciding to acquit Lars Hedegaard [on April 20], president of the Danish Free Press Society, of intending to speak hatefully for public dissemination, the [Danish Supreme Court] emphatically affirmed a statute according to which anyone who “publicly or with the intent of public dissemination issues a pronouncement or other communication by which a group of persons are threatened, insulted or denigrated due to their race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation is liable to a fine or incarceration for up to two years.”

The prosecution of Hedegaard resulted from remarks that he made during an interview and contends were electronically distributed without his permission. Although Hedegaard explained that he did not intend to accuse the majority of Muslim men of abusive behavior, Denmark’s Office of Public Prosecutions deemed his reflections on the incidence of family rape and the commonness of misogyny in Muslim-dominated areas to be criminally insulting.

The trial-court judge did not find that the prosecution met its burden to demonstrate that Hedegaard meant his comments for public distribution. But the Office of Public Prosecutions appealed to the Copenhagen Eastern Superior Court, in which Hedegaard was convicted. This reversal was based upon the elastic legal standard that Hedegaard “ought to have known” of the potential for dissemination of his remarks….

[T]he seven-member supreme court declined to apply the lower court’s “ought to know” standard, but affirmed the statute under which Hedegaard had been prosecuted, with its many ambiguities and invitations to abuse. As Hedegaard has said, the result still logically means that one can be criminally liable for speech deemed racist or offensive if one does not “demand written guarantees that nothing be passed on without express approval.” … [Among other things,] truth is not a defense. In fact, sociological data that would substantiate his observations were not admissible in court. As Hedegaard complained, “the defendant is not allowed to present evidence or call witnesses who might confirm his contention that the Islamic treatment of women is incompatible with the norms of a civilised society.”

[Also], the highly general categories of legal offense do not merely seek to protect races of people — hard enough to define — but now cover beliefs, dogmas, and doctrines. Destructive ideologies that cry out for inspection are thus invited to propagate behind a veil….

I’d be glad to quote more from a straight news account, rather than an opinion piece, but I couldn’t find any. The opinion is here in Danish; if any Danish speakers can translate the key material (from Google Translate, it appears that the Court’s legal analysis is all on just one page, page 3), I’d love to see it. Thanks to Walter Olson (Secular Right) for the pointer.