A few years back Austrian citizen Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was convicted for ‘denigrating the teachings of a legally recognised religion’ by suggesting that Mohammed was a ‘paedophile’. She was stung with a fine of €480 ($546).
The case , in which Sabaditsch-Wolff, above, claimed she was contributing to public debate, wound up in the European Court of Human Rights, which yesterday roundly rejected her defence.
The Strasbourg-based ECHR ruled that Austrian courts had carefully balanced the applicant’s:
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.
In 2009 Sabaditsch-Wolff held two seminars entitled “Basic Information on Islam”, during which she likened Mo’s marriage to a six-year-old girl, Aisha, to paedophilia.
She said at the time that Mohammed “liked to do it with children” and:
An Austrian court later convicted her of disparaging religion and imposed a fine. Other domestic courts upheld the decision before the case was brought before the ECHR.
A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? … What do we call it, if it is not paedophilia?
At one of the hearings judge Neubauer found that it was not legally acceptable to apply the label “paedophile” to the “prophet”, for two distinct reasons:
1. Apart from the marriage to Aisha, which was formalised when she was six and consummated at the age of nine, Muhammad had many other women, in wedlock, as mistresses, or as war booty. This documents the fact that Mohammed did not have a primary sexual attraction directed towards minors.
2. The marriage, and thus the sexual relations with Aisha, did not end when she reached puberty, but continued until she was 18 and Mohammed died. This further underscores the fact that Mohammed was not attracted to her primarily due to her being a minor.
The ECHR recognised that freedom of religion did not exempt people from expecting criticism or denial of their religion. But it ruled that Sabaditsch-Wolff ‘s comments were not objective, failed to provide historical background and had no intention of promoting public debate.
The court ruled that her comment:
Could only be understood as having been aimed at demonstrating that Mohammed was not worthy of worship.
The court added that the statements were not based on facts and were intended to denigrate Islam.
It also found that even in a debate it was not compatible with freedom of expression to:
Pack incriminating statements into the wrapping of an otherwise acceptable expression of opinion and claim that this rendered passable those statements exceeding the permissible limits of freedom of expression.