“Defaming” the Prophet Muhammad by calling him a “pedophile” exceeds the limits of freedom of speech and must be punished with criminal convictions, according to a new ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled Thursday that an Austrian woman’s criminal conviction and fine for her statements accusing the Prophet Muhammad of pedophilia must be upheld, while stating that her punishment does not breach her right to free speech.
The decision by a seven-judge panel came after an Austrian citizen identified as “E.S.” by the court, had held seminars on Islam in 2008 and 2009 where she discussed Muhammad’s marriage to his wife Aisha, a 9-year-old child, and implied that he was a pedophile.
An Austrian court convicted “E.S.” of disparaging religious doctrines in 2011 and fined her 480 euros ($548), 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 Strasbourg-based ECtHR said that the woman’s comments could not be protected by freedom of speech.
The court also said the “feelings” of Muslims in Europe are more important than the Austrian woman’s right to freedom of expression:
The court said it “carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected, and served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria.”
The Austrian courts had drawn a distinction between pedophilia and child marriage in their case against “E.S.”, arguing that an adult male who marries a 9-year-old is not necessarily a pedophile.