European Human-Rights Court Rejects Claim in Muhammad Insult Case

By John Smithies, Epoch Times
October 26, 2018 Updated: October 29, 2018

A woman who was fined by authorities in Austria for linking the Islamic Prophet Muhammad with pedophilia has had her appeal quashed by the European Court of Human Rights.

The woman, known only as Mrs. S, was convicted after holding two seminars in Vienna in 2009, at which she spoke about Muhammad marrying a 6-year-old girl named Aisha.

Islamic scriptures say that the marriage was consummated when Muhammad would have been in his 50s, but Aisha was just 9 or 10 years old.

Mrs. S reportedly told her seminars that this showed that Muhammad “liked to do it with children,” and added, “what do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?”

She was convicted in February 2011 by the Vienna Regional Criminal Court for disparaging religious doctrines. She was ordered to pay a fine of 480 euros ($547) and legal fees.

Mrs. S appealed twice to Austria’s Supreme Court but lost both times. She subsequently decided to take her grievances to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The ECHR is not part of the European Union, but it does rule on human-rights issues for the 47 countries under the Council of Europe.

Freedom of Expression

In this case, Mrs. S said that the Austrian court’s judgment had violated her right to freedom of expression—Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

She said that her criticism of Islam had contributed to a public debate and she hadn’t intended to defame Muhammad. She also said that religious groups had to be able to “tolerate even severe criticism.”

The audience room of the European Court for Human Rights
The audience room of the European Court for Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France in a file photo. (Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images)

But on Oct. 25, the ECHR said that her rights hadn’t been violated.

“The Court noted that the domestic courts comprehensively explained why they considered that the applicant’s statements had been capable of arousing justified indignation,” the ECHR said in a statement. “Specifically, they had not been made in an objective manner contributing to a debate of public interest (e.g. on child marriage), but could only be understood as having been aimed at demonstrating that Muhammad was not worthy of worship.”

They added: “Mrs. S. must have been aware that her statements were partly based on untrue facts and apt to arouse indignation in others.

“The national courts found that Mrs. S. had subjectively labeled Muhammad with pedophilia as his general sexual preference, and that she failed to neutrally inform her audience of the historical background, which consequently did not allow for a serious debate on that issue.”

The court also ruled that the fine levied against Mrs. S was on the “lower end” of punishment.

Controversial Issue

Aisha’s age is frequently mentioned in traditional Islamic texts, as is the age she consummated her marriage to Muhammad. In modern times it has become a controversial issue and source of debate.

However, some Islamic scholars have said her age at marriage would not have been unheard of at that time in history, and some of Muhammad’s companions also married children of a similar age. Others say that Aisha may have entered puberty early, because in seventh-century Arabia, adulthood was defined as the onset of puberty.

Blasphemy laws have been used in European countries to prevent speech that may be offensive to religions.

So-called “hate speech” laws have also been enacted in countries like Germany, forcing social networks to be responsible for their users’ posts or face large fines if they fail to remove them.

Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch said that the German “NetzDG” law, which came into force in Jan. 2018, “turns private companies into overzealous censors to avoid steep fines, leaving users with no judicial oversight or right to appeal.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that blasphemy laws in Denmark and Norway can still lead to jail time for offenders. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

Follow John on Twitter: @jdsmithies