Friday, October 26, 2018

European Court Upholds Conviction For Calling Muhammad A Pedophile

As reported by the Daily Mail, in E.S. v. Austria, (ECHR, Oct. 25, 2018) the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously in a Chamber Judgment that Austria did not violate free speech protections of the European Convention on Human Rights, Sec. 10, when it convicted a speaker of disparaging religious precepts.  The speaker, a woman identified as E.S., made a statement disparaging Muhammad at a seminar titled “Basic information on Islam” presented at the right-wing Freedom Party Education Institute. Her presentation labelled Muhammad's marriage to Aisha as pedophilia  As summarized by the Court's Information Note on the decision, the Court held:
The applicant’s statements had been capable of arousing justified indignation given that they had not been made in an objective manner aimed at contributing to a debate of public interest, but could only have been understood as aimed at demonstrating that Muhammad was not a worthy subject of worship.... Presenting objects of religious worship in a provocative way capable of hurting the feelings of the followers of that religion could be conceived as a malicious violation of the spirit of tolerance, which was one of the bases of a democratic society....
The applicant had subjectively labelled Muhammad with paedophilia as his general sexual preference, while failing to neutrally inform her audience of the historical background, which consequently did not allow for a serious debate on that issue, and had thus made a value judgement without sufficient factual basis.... As to the applicant’s argument that a few individual statements had to be tolerated during a lively discussion, it was not compatible with Article 10 of the Convention to pack incriminating statements into the wrapping of an otherwise acceptable expression of opinion and deduce that this would render the statements, exceeding the permissible limits of freedom of expression, passable. Moreover, the applicant had been wrong to assume that improper attacks on religious groups had to be tolerated even if they were based on untrue facts.
Chamber judgments may be appealed to the Grand Chamber. [Updated to provide link to full text of decision. Thanks to Seth Tillman for the link.]