Defaming the Prophet Muhammed “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace” and thus exceeds the permissible limits of freedom of expression, ruled the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday, upholding a lower court decision.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that an Austrian woman’s criminal conviction and fine for her statements accusing the Prophet Muhammad of pedophilia did not breach her right to free speech.
The woman, named only as ES by the court, had held seminars on Islam in 2008 and 2009 for the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) where she discussed the prophet’s marriage to his wife Aisha, a child at the time, and implied that he was a pedophile.
An Austrian court convicted her of disparaging religious doctrines in 2011 and fined her 480 euros (548 dollars), a judgment that was upheld on two appeals.
Stating that the court had found that “the applicant’s statements had been likely to arouse justified indignation in Muslims” and “amounted to a generalization without factual basis”, the ECtHR said that the woman’s comments could not be covered by the freedom of expression.
ES’ statements “were not phrased in a neutral manner aimed at being an objective contribution to a public debate concerning child marriages,” the ECHR held, adding that the moderate fine imposed on her could not be considered disproportionate.
The Austrian courts had drawn a distinction between pedophilia and child marriage, which was also a common practice historically in European ruling families.
The ECtHR also underlined that it classified the ‘impugned’ statements as “an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam, which was capable of stirring up prejudice and putting at risk religious peace.”
It noted that the Austrian courts had held that ES was making value judgments partly based on untrue facts and without regard to the historical context.