Author: CHRIS JEWERS
Denmark’s former immigration minister has been jailed for ordering asylum seeking couples to be separated if one was a minor in a bid to stamp out child marriage.
A rarely used impeachment court convicted Inger Stoejberg to 60 days in prison on Monday after the Danish parliament voted to try her over the 2016 order.
The vote came after a parliament-appointed commission said that separating couples in asylum centres was ‘clearly illegal’ and that staff members in her ministry had warned her the practice was unlawful.
The Court of Impeachment convened for the first time in 26 years to consider charges against Ms Stoejberg, who maintained her innocence throughout the trial that started September 2.
The court convicted her of ‘intentionally or through gross negligence neglecting the duties’ of her office and providing parliament ‘with incorrect or misleading information’.
It sentenced her to 60 days’ detention. It was unclear if the former minister actually serve jail time, or if she would be fitted with an electronic monitoring bracelet to serve her sentence at home.
‘Whether it is two or four months is not crucial to us,’ prosecutor Jon Lauritzen said. ‘The fact that she was found guilty because there was intent has been crucial.’
The verdict cannot be appealed.
Ms Stoejberg, who received flowers from supporters after the court delivered its decision, said she was ‘very, very surprised by the verdict’ but would serve her sentence. Defence lawyer Rene Offersen called it ‘a disappointing outcome’.
She was accused of misleading parliamentary committees four times while informing them about the separation policy she adopted as minister.
It will now be up to fellow politicians to decide whether she can continue to serve as a member of the 179-seat Folketing.
Ms Stoejberg served as minister for immigration, integration and housing from 2015 to 2019 as part of Denmark’s previous centre-right government.
Considered an immigration hardliner, Ms Stoejberg spearheaded the tightening of asylum and immigration rules.
A 2016 law required newly arrived asylum-seekers to hand over valuables such as jewellery and gold to help pay for their stays in the country.
Ms Stoejberg has said she initiated the policy of separating minors from their partners out of concerns the relationships may have involved forced marriages. Twenty-three couples were split up before the policy was halted months later.
Most of the women among the separated couples were aged 15 to 17, while the men ranged in age from 15 to 32.
Most of the couples were originally from Syria. Officials said some couples arrived in Denmark with children or while the woman was pregnant.
In Denmark, the legal age of marriage is 18. The women who were under 18 said they had consented to their marriages.
The Court of Impeachment, which adjudicates cases in which government ministers are accused of unlawful misconduct and misuse of office, was last used in 1995.
That year, former justice minister Erik Ninn-Hansen was given a suspended four-month sentence for having prevented Sri Lankan refugees from bringing their families to Denmark.
The court consists of 15 supreme court judges and 15 members appointed by parliament. Since it was created in 1849, the court has considered five cases and Ms Stoejberg’s case is the third to result in a guilty verdict.