Danish child rights’ activist and author Lisbeth Zornig was convicted of people smuggling on Friday for helping a Syrian family heading to Sweden to seek asylum, her spokeswoman said.
A court in the southeastern town of Nykobing ordered Zornig, a high-profile figure in Denmark who has formerly served as the country's ombudsman for children's rights, and her journalist husband, Mikael Rauno Lindholm, to each pay a fine of $3,350 (3,000 euros) for having helped refugees on the road to Sweden for a better life.
"This was the wrong decision by the judge. Since no money changed hands this could not be seen as smuggling under the United Nations protocol against the smuggling of migrants," the couple's lawyer, Bjorn Elmquist, said in a phone interview.
Zornig picked up the Syrian family in Rodbyhavn, a port through which many refugees passed en route from Germany before Copenhagen reinstated border controls in early January, and drove them to Copenhagen.
"For me, it was like picking up hitch-hikers," Zornig told the court.
"Nobody thinks to ask them for their identification papers," she said, according to a Danish news agency.
Her husband Lindholm was accused of having served the same Syrian family coffee and biscuits in the couple’s home, driving them to the train station and buying their tickets to Sweden.
Lindholm told the court that he had called the police to ask if he was allowed to do so within the law.
"The police duty officer told me that was a good question but wasn't able to answer," Lindholm said.
Their lawyer Elmquist said that the couple have two weeks to appeal.
In recent months, several hundred people have been charged with aiding refugees in Denmark. However, the sentences have generally been light.
A man who transported four Afghan refugees was also ordered to pay a fine of $744 (670 euros), as the second most recent conviction.
"I am not proud of this for our country. Our legislation is bad. I had hoped the judges would have kept an open mind to that," Elmquist said.
Police statistics show that 279 people have been charged in Denmark after helping refugees between September 2015 and February 2016, compared to 140 in 2014.
The rise reflects the surge in refugees who have arrived in the Scandinavian countries since last autumn.
Last year, Sweden received 163,000 asylum applications, peaking ayt 10,000 a week in October.
Denmark, which has half the population of Sweden, received 21,000 asylum applications in 2015, a rise of 44 percent from the previous year.
Both Sweden and Denmark have tightened their asylum conditions in recent months, which has drastically reduced the flow of refugees arriving.
Most notably, Denmark has authorised police to confiscate refugees' valuables upon their arrival in the country.
"We are now known for confiscating jewelry and valuables from refugees, people who have lost everything. Are we now also going to be known for punishing citizens who help people in need?" Zornig said in a statement.
"Is there no lower limit for what Denmark will do to make its mark in the international community?" she added.