Denmark | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2011

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Denmark continued to face controversy and attacks in 2010 related to the infamous Muhammad cartoons published in 2005. In January, cartoonist Kurt Westergaard escaped an assassination attempt by an assailant with suspected ties to the Shabaab, an Islamist militant group in Somalia. Changes made to Denmark’s immigration laws in 2010 were criticized by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for unfairly penalizing vulnerable refugees seeking asylum.

Denmark has been a monarchy since the Middle Ages, but after the promulgation of its first democratic constitution in 1849, the monarch’s role became largely ceremonial. The country was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II despite its attempts to maintain neutrality, and in 1949, it joined NATO. In 1973, Denmark became a member of the European Economic Community, forerunner of the European Union (EU).

Postwar Danish politics have been dominated by the Social Democratic Party. However, in the 2001 elections, a right-wing coalition led by Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s Liberal Party won control by pledging to reduce immigration and lower taxes. The coalition, which also included the Conservative People’s Party, was supported by the anti-immigrant and Euroskeptic Danish People’s Party. Denmark has had a conflicted relationship with the EU, rejecting the bloc’s 1992 Maastricht Treaty on justice, foreign, and monetary policy and opting not to adopt the euro as its sole currency in 2000.

The Liberals won reelection in 2005, maintaining their coalition with the Conservatives and receiving external support from the Danish People’s Party. Prime Minister Rasmussen was returned to office again in the 2007 elections, with the Liberals, Conservatives, and Danish People’s Party receiving 45, 18, and 25 seats, respectively. The Social Democrats captured 45 seats, and the Socialist People’s Party, one of the smaller opposition parties, more than doubled its share of seats, from 11 to 23. Rasmussen officially resigned his post in April 2009 after being named NATO secretary general; he was replaced by finance minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen (no relation).

In October 2009, two men were arrested in Chicago in connection with a terrorist plot to bomb the offices of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which had printed controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005. Surveillance video had shown the men visiting two Jyllands-Posten offices over the course of the year. One of those arrested, Pakistani American David Headley, pleaded guilty in March 2010 to planning a terrorist attack on Jyllands-Posten,as well as participating in the planning of the 2008 attack in Mumbai, India.

The cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who had drawn the most contentious of the Muhammad cartoons, was attacked in his home in January 2010 by a Somali assailant wielding an axe and a knife. Westergaard escaped unharmed, and the intruder, Mohamed Geele, was apprehended by police. Geele, who was believed to have ties to the Shabaab, an Islamist militant group based in Somalia, was scheduled to face trial in January 2011.

In September, a small bomb exploded in a hotel in central Copenhagen, causing little material damage but injuring the alleged bomber. Danish police, who apprehended the suspect, a Chechen man, several hours later, theorized that Jyllands-Posten had been the intended target of the failed attack.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Denmark is an electoral democracy. The current constitution, adopted in 1953, established a single-chamber parliament (the Folketing) and retained a monarch, currently Queen Margrethe II, with mostly ceremonial duties. The parliament’s 179 representatives are elected at least once every four years through a system of modified proportional representation. The leader of the majority party or coalition is usually chosen to be prime minister by the monarch. Danish governments most often control a minority of seats in the parliament, ruling with the aid of one or more supporting parties. Since 1909, no single party has held a majority of seats, helping to create a tradition of compromise.
The territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands each have two representatives in the Folketing. They also have their own elected institutions, which have power over almost all areas of governance.
Levels of corruption in Denmark are very low. Denmark was ranked 1 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The media reflect a wide variety of political opinions and are frequently critical of the government. The state finances radio and television broadcasting, but state-owned television companies have independent editorial boards. Independent radio stations are permitted but tightly regulated. In March 2010, the Danish attorney general charged the Danish-based, Kurdish-language satellite television station Roj-TV for promoting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the EU and United States consider a terrorist organization. While a trial date had not been set and Roj-TV continued to broadcast at year’s end, the station was the first Danish media organization to face prosecution for promoting terrorism.Access to the internet is not restricted, and Denmark’s internet penetration rate is among the world’s highest.
Freedom of worship is legally protected. However, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is subsidized by the government as the official state religion. The faith is taught in public schools, though students may withdraw from religious classes with parental consent. At present, about half of all schoolchildren are exempted from the catechism taught in public schools. In 2009, religious or political symbols were banned from judicial attire.
The constitution provides for freedoms of assembly and association. Demonstrations during 2010 were peaceful, and there was no repetition of the violent clashes between police and protesters surrounding an international climate conference in 2009. Civil society is vibrant, and workers are free to organize. The labor market is mainly regulated by agreements between employers’ and employees’ organizations.
The judiciary is independent, and citizens enjoy full due process rights. The court system consists of 100 local courts, two high courts, and the 15-member Supreme Court, with judges appointed by the monarch on the government’s recommendation. Prisons generally meet international standards.
Discrimination is prohibited under the law. However, strict immigration laws introduced in 2002 were tightened further during 2010, adding more obstacles for citizens attempting to bring foreign spouses into the country. The Danish partner is required to pass a solvency test, post a bond of $12,000, and be at least 24 years of age. A reunified husband and wife must both prove that they maintain “closer ties to Denmark than to any other country,” and the Danish partner must not have received any kind of social benefits for three years. A new point system aimed at facilitating the reunification of spouses favors visa candidates who are considered attractive to the Danish economy and society. The rules were criticized by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for unfairly penalizing vulnerable refugees seeking asylum. Denmark also denies religious worker visas, which restricts access to missionaries entering the country from abroad.
Denmark has closed many of its asylum centers since the introduction of the restrictive 2002 immigration laws. In 2009, the government was criticized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for deporting 22 Iraqis even though their home country had been deemed “dangerous.” The European Court of Human Rights in 2010 called on Denmark to stop deporting asylum seekers to Greece, their point of entry to the EU, on the grounds that the Greek asylum system no longer functioned effectively and could not process cases. Nevertheless, Denmark continued the policy through the end of the year, and a binding decision on the matter was pending at the Strasbourg-based court.
Women enjoy equal rights in Demark and represent half of the workforce. However, disparities have been reported in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark is a destination and transit point for women and children trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Following the 2003 adoption of legislation that defined and criminalized such trafficking, the government began working regularly with nongovernmental organizations in their trafficking-prevention campaigns.