Freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Denmark

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Denmark are ensured by § 77 of the constitution:[1]

Anyone is entitled to in print, writing and speech to publish his or hers thoughts, yet under responsibility to the courts. Censorship and other preventive measures can never again be introduced.

The phrase under responsibility to the courts provides the main concept of the freedom: the constitution grants one the freedom to say whatever they please, but does not protect them from being punished for doing so. The courts generally set wider boundaries for what is deemed inappropriate for the press or in a political debate than for civil citizens.

The major punishable acts are child pornography, libel, blasphemy, and hate speech/racism, which are restricted by the Danish penal code. Like most other countries, Denmark also forbids publishing classified material harmful to state security, copyright-protected material without permission and revealing trade secrets in the civil law.

In 2004, 2005, and 2009 Denmark received a joint first place in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders.[2] Since 2011, Denmark has consistently been in the top-10 out of 179 countries in the index and it was fourth in 2016.[3][4][5][6][7]

Child pornography

The provisions against child pornography are set down in §§ 235, 222, 224, 225, and 230 of the penal code:[8][9]


The provision against libel is set down in § 267 of the penal code:

Anybody who offends another person's honor by insulting words or actions or by stating or disseminating charges, that are suitable for reducing the insulted person in the esteem of fellow citizens, will be punished by fine or ordinary imprisonment.


Blasphemy is forbidden by § 140 of the penal code:

Anybody who publicly mocks or insults any in this country legally existing religious community tenets of faith or worship, will be punished by fine or imprisonment for up to 4 months.

However, there is very little legal tradition for actually punishing anyone for violating this article. Legal tradition seems to establish that debate and art are not punishable under the blasphemy-article. The article has not been used since 1938 when a Nazi group was convicted for antisemitic propaganda. The hate speech article (§266b) is used more frequently. Abolition of the blasphemy article was proposed in 1972-73 and again in 2004, but none of the proposals were adopted.[10]

Hate speech and racism

The rules against hate speech and racism are set down in § 266b of the Danish penal code:

Whoever publicly, or with intention to disseminating in a larger circle makes statements or other pronouncement, by which a group of persons is threatened, derided or degraded because of their race, colour of skin, national or ethnic background, faith or sexual orientation, will be punished by fine or imprisonment for up to 2 years.
Sec. 2. When meting out the punishment it shall be considered an especially aggravating circumstance, if the count has the character of propaganda.

Free speech advocate Lars Hedegaard was prosecuted under this statute for remarks made to a blogger in December 2009 criticizing Islam. He was first acquitted in the District Court in January 2011, then convicted upon appeal to High Court in May 2011, and finally acquitted by the Danish Supreme Court in April 2012 which ruled that it could not be proved that he intended for the statements to be published.[11] Danish politician Jesper Langballe plead guilty and was convicted of hate speech for comments he made about rape and honour killings in Muslim families in a newspaper article in connection with Hedegaard's case.[12]

State security

In February and March 2004 three Berlingske Tidende journalists, Michael Bjerre, Jesper Larsen, and Niels Lunde, were prosecuted for "harming state security" after publishing the details of classified intelligence reports about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In December 2006 the three were acquitted by a Copenhagen court.[13]

See also


  1. "Kapitel VIII" (Part 8), Danmarks Riges Grundlov (Grundloven) (Danish Constitution) (in Danish). (English translation)
  2. "Press Freedom Index 2004", "Press Freedom Index 2005", "Press Freedom Index 2009", Reporters Without Borders, accessed 12 August 2012
  3. "Press Freedom Index 2011-2012", Reporters Without Borders, accessed 12 August 2012
  4. "World Press Freedom Index 2013", Reporters Without Borders
  5. "World Press Freedom Index 2014", Reporters Without Borders
  6. "World Press Freedom Index 2015", Reporters Without Borders
  7. "World Press Freedom Index 2016", Reporters Without Borders
  8. "Straffeloven kapitel 24: Forbrydelser mod kønssædeligheden" (Penal Code Chapter 24: Crimes against sexual morality) (in Danish). Synopsis. Retrieved 17 August 2012. (English translation)
  9. "Om blokeringsordningen mod børneporno" (About blocking scheme against child pornography) (in Danish), Danish National Police, 16 July 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2012. (English translation)
  10. "Denmark section" in Annexe II: Analysis of the Domestic Law Concerning Blasphemy, Religious Insults and Inciting Religious Hatred in Albania, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Turkey, United Kingdom on the basis of replies to a questionnaire, European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission), Council of Europe, 22 October 2008. Retrieved 16 August 2012
  11. Pia Buhl Andersen (20 April 2012). "Lars Hedegaard is acquitted of opinions about Muslims" (in Danish). Politiken.DK. Retrieved 16 August 2012. (English translation)
  12. "Jesper Langballe admits defamation after Muslim rape comments", IceNews, 14 December 2010. Retrieved 16 August 2012
  13. "Three Berlingske Tidende Journalists Acquitted of State Security Charges", Reporters Without Borders, 4 December 2004, accessed 16 August 2012

External links

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