Former Danish immigration minister Inger Stojberg, known for her hardline stance in that role, was handed a 60-day prison sentence on Monday by an impeachment court for having illegally ordered the separation of under-age couples seeking asylum.
Stojberg was accused of knowingly breaking the law in 2016 by ordering the separation of all asylum-seeking refugee couples where at least one was under 18 years of age, a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Under Danish and human rights law, couples must be assessed individually, implying that the minister’s order to separate all underage couples was illegal. A total of 23 couples were separated.
“I’m very, very surprised. I think it is the Danish values that have lost,” Stojberg told reporters. “I wished and still wish to protect these girls.”
The right-wing politician, minister from 2015-19 for the Liberal Party, has repeatedly denied giving any illegal order, saying the aim was to stamp out child marriages and protect underage girls.
Stojberg was considered one of the main architects behind Denmark’s tough immigration policies, such as allowing authorities to confiscate asylum seekers’ jewellery.
“I’m going to take my punishment with my head held high,” she said.
The case started when a Syrian couple complained to the country’s ombudsman in 2016 after they were placed in separate asylum centres. A commission launched to investigate the case, also known as the “child bride case”, concluded that the order was “clearly illegal”.
Twenty five of the 26 judges agreed to convict Stojberg in only the sixth impeachment court of its kind in the Nordic country in more than 170 years and first since 1995.
“We are satisfied with the verdict,” prosecutors Jon Lauritzen and Anne Birgitte Gammeljord told reporters. “It’s a historic case.”
The verdict is final and cannot be appealed.