Austrian courts did not violate the right to freedom of expression of a woman convicted for implying that the Prophet Mohammed was a paedophile, a European Court ruled on Thursday.
The woman, named only as ES by the court, had held seminars on Islam in 2008 and 2009 for the far-right Freedom Party where she discussed the Islamic prophet’s marriage to his wife Aisha, a child at the time, and implied that he was a paedophile.
An Austrian court convicted her of disparaging religious doctrines in 2011 and fined her 480 euros (548 dollars), a judgement that was upheld on two appeals.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) noted that the Austrian courts had held that ES was not making factual statements but value judgments partly based on untrue facts and without regard to the historical context.
The Austrian courts had drawn a distinction between paedophilia and child marriage, which was also a common practice historically in European ruling families.
Religious beliefs must be subject to criticism and denial, the ECHR observed, but where statements about religions went beyond critical denial and were likely to incite religious intolerance, states could take proportionate restrictive measures, the court said.
ES’s statements “were not phrased in a neutral manner aimed at being an objective contribution to a public debate concerning child marriages but amounted to a generalisation without factual basis,’’ the ECHR held, adding that the moderate fine imposed on her could not be considered disproportionate.
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