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Defamation of Islamic prophet Muhammad not protected by free speech, European court says

Courtroom of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. (Adrian Grycuk/Wikimedia Commons)
October 29, 2018

Freedom of speech in Europe does not including defaming Islam’s prophet, according to a new court ruling.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided that insults against Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace,” Fox News reported Saturday.

A panel of seven judges came to the decision after an Austrian woman nicknamed “Mrs. S” filed a lawsuit claiming her free speech was violated after she was convicted for criticizing Muhammad.

The Austrian court “carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected,” according to the ECHR.

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Mrs. S reportedly held two public seminars in 2009, titled “Basic Information on Islam,” during which she compared Muhammad’s marriage with a six-year-old girl – consummated when she turned nine – to “pedophilia.”

“… A 56-year-old and a 6-year-old? … What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?” she reportedly said at the time.

In 2011, she was convicted by an Austrian court of “disparaging religious precepts,” a punishable crime in Austria. In order to avoid jail time, she was forced to pay a fine of $547, in addition to legal fees.

Mrs. S appealed the decision, although an Austrian appeals court upheld the lower court’s ruling. She maintained that her remarks about Muhammad were not intended to be defamatory, but instead were intended to inspire debate among the public, and were within the bounds of free expression.

The ECHR’s ruling on Thursday determined that the Austrian court’s decision enabled “religious peace preserved in Austrian society” after the defendant’s statements “had been likely to arouse justified indignation in Muslims.”

The ECHR justified its decision by stating that Mrs. S had not presented her remarks in a neutral manner or allowed a public, objective debate.

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Further, it asserted that she failed to provide sufficient evidence “that [Muhammad’s] primary sexual interest in Aisha had been her not yet having reached puberty or that his other wives or concubines had been similarly young.”

“In particular, the applicant had disregarded the fact that the marriage with Aisha had continued until the Prophet’s death, when she had already turned eighteen and had therefore passed the age of puberty,” the ECHR added.

It is on this basis that the ECHR decided the remarks of Mrs. S did not fall under Article 10 protections of free expression, nor did the Austrian courts violate her rights.

The ruling falls in line with Islam’s opposition to negative depictions of Muhammad.

In 2015, Islamic radicals killed 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satire magazine, after they published cartoons mocking Muhammad. Similar incidents are now subject to punishment through courts as a result of the ECHR ruling.