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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Judith Bergman : Mockeries of Justice in Denmark


  • An appeal would have sent a signal to potential terrorists that Danish authorities look sternly upon logistical assistance to terrorists, and will do everything in their power to pursue justice.
  • The only one at risk of actual harm is Lars Hedegaard himself: his attempted murderer remains at large. "I have resorted to making the suspected assassin's name as well-known as possible in self-defense."
  • It is deeply disturbing, not only for the victims, but for all citizens, when the courts so clearly divorce themselves from pursuing what most citizens would perceive as justice, and instead appear to favor those who seek to harm society.
  • Refusing to implicate Omar El-Hussein's friends in his terrorism, despite their obvious contributions to his terror deeds, and fining the victim of a terrorist attack for publicly naming his would-be murderer, who escaped justice by fleeing the country, inevitably appears like a mockery of justice, not its fulfillment.

If the legal system in Denmark is anything to go by, being an accessory to murder is just fine. Attackers are protected to the hilt; their victims are left unprotected and fined.

In February 2015, the terrorist Omar El-Hussein murdered Danish film director Finn Nørgaard in front of café Krudttønden in Copenhagen. Later that night, he killed a Jewish guard in front of the Copenhagen synagogue. Danish police shot and killed El-Hussein during the subsequent manhunt.

Four men assisted El-Hussein after he killed the film director: They helped him get rid of the murder weapon, gave him fresh clothes and bought him a new bag, which he used to store the gun used to kill the Jewish guard. They also met with him several times in different places around Copenhagen in the five hours leading up to the murder of the Jewish guard. One of those places was an internet café, where El-Hussein googled for information about the synagogue. The four men were charged with complicity in the terrorist act against the synagogue.

At the end of September, the Danish District Court acquitted all four of the terrorism charge. The district court found no evidence that the men knew of El-Hussein's plans to attack the synagogue, when they met with him after his attack at Krudttønden. Instead, the four men were convicted of minor charges, such as threats and violence against prison staff, weapons possession in particularly aggravating circumstances, and possession of illegal ammunition. Three of the men were free to go after the sentencing, as their 18 months in custody meant that they had already served their sentences, which were sixty days, six months, two and a half years and three years respectively. One of the four men has already declared his intention to sue the Danish state for damages amounting to 1 million Danish kroner (USD $150,000) for the 18 months he spent in custody. The prosecution has decided that it will not appeal the verdict, which is therefore final.

Appealing the verdict might have been the appropriate thing to do, even if there were little chance of having the ruling reversed. An appeal would have sent a signal to potential terrorists that Danish authorities look sternly upon logistical assistance to terrorists and will do everything in their power to pursue justice.
 Considering that European countries are likely to experience many more terrorist attacks in the future, the Danish court and the prosecution both sent a deeply troubling signal to future terrorists and their helpers, as well as Danish society as a whole.

This is not the only recent Danish court case to be sending the wrong kind of signals. In September, the Danish High Court upheld the District Court's decision to fine the Danish writer, Lars Hedegaard, 10,000 Danish kroner (USD $1500) for publishing the name of a terrorist, "BH," who attempted to murder Hedegaard in his own home in February 2013. BH subsequently fled from Denmark, but was arrested in Turkey. Denmark wanted him extradited, but instead Turkey released BH in what was most likely a prisoner exchange with the Islamic State, in 2014.

Hedegaard published the name of his would-be assassin in his book, Attentatet ("The Assassination"), on Facebook, and on a Swedish website. This, the Danish courts ruled, was in breach of a court order suppressing the name of the terrorist.
The name of a defendant in a criminal case may be suppressed if public communication of the name is likely to endanger someone's safety or cause unnecessary harm. Ostensibly, the court upholds the court order suppressing the suspected terrorist's name in order to protect the family of the suspect.
The name, however, was already out in the press at the time of the court order and has been mentioned countless times by others on Facebook and elsewhere. Furthermore, the only one at risk of actual harm is Lars Hedegaard himself: his attempted murderer remains at large. This was indeed why he publicized the name: "I have resorted to making the suspected assassin's name as well-known as possible in self-defense, on the grounds that it increases the chances that he will be apprehended," Hedegaard explained.

In a Kafkaesque form of inverted justice, the High Court disregarded this commonsense argument and instead maintained that Hedegaard should pay the fine, adding insult to injury by claiming that there was no need on the grounds of self-defense for Hedegaard to publicize the name of the man who tried to kill him.
Indeed, the High Court found that the fine should be considerably higher than the 10,000 kroner that the District Court had ruled that Hedegaard should pay.

Graciously, the High Court decided not to raise the fine, because of the "mitigating" circumstance that Hedegaard had been the target of a murder attempt. How magnanimous of them!


Denmark's high court upheld a fine levied against Lars Hedegaard, because he wrote the name of the man who tried to murder him, in violation of a court order suppressing the name of the terrorist, who is still at large and wanted by police.

The Danish authorities did not stop there. A number of activists, in solidarity with Hedegaard, went ahead and published the name themselves. Some of them showed up during Hedegaard's court case wearing T-shirts with the name of the suspected terrorist. The Danish court spent taxpayer money charging some of those activists for wearing those T-shirts. Several others -- the publisher of Hedegaard's book, an artist who painted BH's name on a painting, a priest who mentioned the name in an article in a Danish newspaper and others -- were also charged with breaching the court order.

It is deeply disturbing, not only for the victims, but for all citizens, when the courts so clearly divorce themselves from pursuing what most citizens will perceive as justice, and instead appear to be favoring those who seek to harm society. 
Refusing to implicate Omar El-Hussein's friends in his terrorism, despite their obvious contributions to his terrorist activities, and fining the victim of a terrorist attack for publicly naming his would-be murderer, who escaped justice by fleeing the country, inevitably appears like a mockery of justice, not its fulfillment.
Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.
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