Pakistan on Saturday welcomed the Danish government’s decision to propose a bill, which would outlaw the burning of the Holy Quran and other religious books, calling it a “step in the right direction”.

A day earlier, Denmark said it plans to ban the desecration of religious scriptures, including the Holy Quran after a string of incidents in which Islam’s holy book was disrespected sparked anger in Muslim countries.

The ban, due to be presented to parliament on September 1, comes six years after Denmark abolished its 334-year-old blasphemy law. The bill is expected to pass through parliament, where the left-right government holds a majority.

The country had stepped up security earlier this month following a backlash, as did neighbouring Sweden, which has also seen a spate of burnings in recent months. Denmark ended the measures on August 22, though they remain in place in Sweden.

The proposed legislation would also apply to desecrations of the Bible, the Torah or, for example, a crucifix. Those who break the law risk a fine or up to two years in prison.

In a statement issued today, the Foreign Office (FO) said Pakistan had always maintained that the desecration and burning of holy scriptures constituted a “serious act of religious hatred, which must not be permitted under the guise of freedom of expression, opinion and protest”.

“As stipulated by international human rights law and called for by the UN Human Rights Council, such provocative acts must be prevented and prohibited through legal means.”

The FO said incidents of the Holy Quran’s desecration in the last few months had hurt the sentiments of over 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

“Such abhorrent acts intend to create friction among communities and harm inter-faith harmony and mutual respect. It is the responsibility of national governments to take all measures necessary to prevent these acts of religious hatred, xenophobia and Islamophobia.

“We hope the step taken by Denmark today will culminate in effective legislation to curb the desecration of the Holy Quran and other divine books. We also hope that other countries will emulate and undertake similar steps to outlaw such hateful acts,” it added.

The statement further mentioned that Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen interacted with his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani today.

The latter appreciated the Danish government’s proposed legislation and hoped the bill, when passed, would create interfaith harmony and bring an end to an environment of hatred amongst people of different religious faiths.

Taking to X (formerly Twitter) earlier today, Jilani said: “Pakistan appreciates the Danish govt’s proposed legislation to criminalise improper treatment of religious texts and objects of significant importance, including the Holy Quran.”

He added Rasmussen had reiterated the Danish government’s strong commitment to respecting religious sensitivities.

Calls for ban

In July, the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution on religious hatred, which was introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

The resolution called for the UN rights chief to publish a report on religious hatred and for states to review their laws and plug gaps that may “impede the prevention and prosecution of acts and advocacy of religious hatred”.

The same month, the UN General Assembly adopted, by consensus, a Moroccan resolution, co-sponsored by Pakistan, calling for countering hate speech and strongly deploring attacks against places of worship, religious symbols and holy books.

The resolution, titled ‘Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech’, won the approval of the 193-member assembly and stated: “Strongly deploring all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief, as well as any such acts directed against their religious symbols, holy books, homes, businesses, properties, schools, cultural centres or places of worship, as well as all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines in violation of international law.”

Holy Quran desecrations are permitted in Sweden, Denmark and Norway but not in neighbouring Finland where desecration of holy scriptures in public is illegal. Sweden had a similar law but removed it in the 1970s.

Sweden has laws banning hate speech against ethnic, national and religious groups and people on grounds of sexual orientation. However, the desecration of holy scriptures has thus far not qualified as hate speech but has been seen as acceptable criticism.

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