Saturday, July 16, 2005

Police consider arresting flag burners

Flag burning is stupid, but it is important to remember that this is also a freedom of speech issue:

Police consider arresting flag burners

Police are currently studying the law books in order to find a way to charge protestors who set fire to US and Danish flags during a protest of President George W. Bush's visit to Denmark last week. When protestors found themselves in front of the US Embassy, they set fire to a US flag. At a later point in the march, they also burned the Danish flag. Copenhagen Police Chief Per Larsen explained that the police chose not to arrest anyone during the march to avoid a confrontation with the demonstrators. He was not in doubt that burning the US flag was a violation of paragraph 110 E of Denmark's criminal code, which prohibits disgracing flags or other symbols of foreign states. If found guilty, the protestors could be punished with a fine or up to two years of imprisonment. Larsen was somewhat unsure about the penalty for burning the Danish flag, however. 'I think that it might be just as bad or even worse to burn one's own flag. But I have to admit I can't find it in the criminal code, but one could always cite it as a disturbance of the peace,' he said. Gorm Toftegaard Nielsen, a professor of criminal law at Aarhus University, also had difficulty citing a specific law that Danish flag burners broke. 'As far as I know, it does not say anywhere that you can't burn the Danish flag,' said Nielsen. Nielsen noted, however, that punishing people for disgracing a flag could be considered an infringement of their freedom of speech. 'Desecrating other nations' flags is often an expression of political convictions which are protected by freedom of speech,' said Nielsen. He noted that the last time the paragraph 110 E had been cited was in 1936.


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