A former Danish minister has been convicted of illegally separating asylum-seeking couples where one partner was under 18.
Inger Støjberg was found guilty in a rare impeachment trial and sentenced to 60 days in prison on Monday.
The court found that the former minister had neglected her ministerial duties “intentionally or through gross negligence”.
Judges also found Støjberg guilty of providing parliament with “incorrect or misleading information” and agreed that the order had violated Danish law and the European Convention on Human Rights.
It was the first time the Court of Impeachment had been convened in Denmark in 26 years.
Støjberg has maintained her innocence and said she was “very surprised” at the verdict, which cannot be appealed.
MPs will now decide whether she can continue to serve as a member of the 179-seat Folketing.
Støjberg was accused of misleading parliamentary committees on four occasions about a separation policy she adopted as minister.
The 48-year-old had served as Denmark’s minister of immigration, integration, and housing from 2015 to 2019 under the country’s previous centre-right government.
In 2016, she initiated the policy of separating minors from their partners over concerns that the relationships may have involved forced marriages.
Twenty-three couples — mostly from Syria — were split up and placed in separate centres before the policy was halted months later. Officials said some couples arrived in Denmark with children or while the woman was pregnant.
The women who were under 18 — Denmark’s legal age of marriage — said they had consented to their marriages.
Denmark’s parliament had voted for Støjberg to be tried after a parliament-appointed commission said that separating couples in asylum centres was “clearly illegal”.
Staff members within her integration ministry had also warned her that the practice was unlawful.
An investigation into the so-called “child bride case” led to her resignation as vice-president of the Liberal Party.
The Court of Impeachment, which adjudicates cases in which government ministers are accused of unlawful misconduct and misuse of office, was last used in Denmark in 1995.
On that occasion, 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 Støjberg’s case is the third to result in a guilty verdict.
Considered an immigration hardliner, Støjbergalso introduced a 2016 law that required newly arrived asylum-seekers to hand over valuables such as jewellery and gold to help pay for their stays in the country.
The Social Democratic government that took over in 2019 has not scrapped immigration restrictions, even introducing tougher measures in recent months. In April, it revoked residence permits for Syrian refugees.