Intrepid Danish journalist, historian and President of the Free Press Society Lars Hedegaard, has been acquitted unanimously by a panel of seven Supreme Court justices. led by Chief Justice Børge Dahl. Hedegaard was accused of intentionally denigrating Muslims in breach of Article 266b of the Danish Penal Code, which states,
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.
The Court stated in a press release that “there has been no basis for convicting him of intentionally disseminating his remarks to a wider audience.” As a result, the Court found no grounds for remitting the case for re-trial in Superior Court, which convicted Lars Hedegaard after he had been found not guilty in the lower court.
Although obviously pleased with this current decision, Hedegaard warned that the root of the problem — Article 266B — and its selective application designed to proscribe public debate on Islam — had not been addressed.
As Hedegaard observed,
I’m satisfied that the Supreme Court has delivered a verdict in accordance with the evidence given in lower and superior court. The prosecution had this evidence before it decided to press charges so I cannot understand why it went ahead. The prosecutor has burdened the courts and the taxpayers needlessly for more than two years.
This judgment is not necessarily a victory for free speech. Article 266b, under which I was charged, remains unchanged. It remains a disgrace to any civilized society and is an open invitation to frivolous trials. Thus, we still have no right to refer to truth if we are indicted under this article.
There have been several attempts to make 266b conform to normal standards of justice but successive governments and parliamentary majorities have steadfastly refused.
I am, however, happy that my acquittal means that at least the Supreme Court has set a limit to how deeply the State may penetrate one’s private life. The Supreme Court has clearly upheld the principle that for a statement to be criminal, it must have been made with the intent of public dissemination. We may still talk freely in our own homes.
Reflecting upon his own travails, Hedegaard concluded by pledging to continue the struggle to abrogate 266B:
My personal reaction to more than two years of fatiguing litigation is to demand written guarantees from people who want to talk to me. With their signatures they must confirm that nothing be passed on without my express approval and without me having had a chance to vet it. This goes whether people are journalists or not.
I would advise everybody to do the same for we all know that the prosecutor lies in wait.
The Free Press Society will strengthen its struggle against the penal code’s despicable article 266b.