In a troubling legal ruling for free speech, a woman who insulted the Muslim faith has had her conviction upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.
The woman, known only as Mrs S, had made disparaging remarks about the prophet Mohammed, calling him a paedophile, because one of his many wives was only six years old when they married.
She was convicted in Austria by a lower court in Vienna for ‘disparaging religious doctrines’ and was ordered to pay a 480 euros fine plus legal fees.
Mrs S was holding a seminar during which she was found to have made the remark about Mohammed. She claims she was exercising her right to free speech during a lively debate on a matter of general public interest.
She appealed her case to the European Court but it upheld her conviction. In a statement the Court said the original ruling was justified in order that others may ‘have their religious feelings protected’, and the conviction ‘served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria’.
The Court also said the woman’s remarks went ‘beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate’, and were ‘an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam which could stir up prejudice and threaten religious peace’.
But the European Court’s ruling drew widespread concern. Writing for The Observer Kenan Malik said, ‘We live in sorry times if hurt feelings have now become a matter for the lawmakers’.
In The Daily Telegraph Tim Stanley said that on the same day that the Republic of Ireland voted to scrap its blasphemy laws ‘the European Court of Human Rights upheld a verdict against a woman accused of slandering the Prophet Muhammad.
‘And that is the new Europe in a nutshell: severing its link to Christianity at the same time as it struggles to accommodate the more assertive faith of Islam. We’re facing an almighty test of free speech vs religious tolerance’.