In the event, Denmark pulled back from the brink. Following my piece here a few days ago about the witch-hunt against the President of the Danish Free Press society Lars Hedegaard, the Danish Supreme Court ruled last Friday that he was not guilty after all of hate speech and racism – the second time he has been acquitted of this charge in a roller-coaster of a case which has stained Denmark’s reputation for justice, free speech and common-sense.
So a victory, certainly — but still only two cheers for Denmark’s legal system. First, as has been the case throughout this saga, the acquittal – like the previous acquittal and conviction – turned merely on the narrow question of whether the remarks by Hedegaard which were in contention had been made in a private forum.
The Supreme Court decided that he had had ‘no intention of disseminating his remarks to a wider audience’, and that therefore no offence had been committed.
The crux of the issue, whether someone is entitled to speak in public in Denmark about child abuse and violence towards women in Muslim culture, remains therefore very much an open question. The suspicion remains that under Danish law they are not; Article 266b of its penal code, under which Hedegaard was prosecuted, states that ‘Whoever 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 color, national or ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation is liable to a fine or incarceration for up to two years.’