Defaming the Prophet Muhammed “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate" and "could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace” and thus exceeds the permissible limits of freedom of expression, ruled the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday, upholding a lower court decision.
The decision by a seven-judge panel came after an Austrian national identified as Mrs. S. held two seminars in 2009, entitled “Basic Information on Islam,” in which she defamed the Prophet Muhammad’s marriage.
According to a statement released by the court on Thursday, the Vienna Regional Criminal Court found that these statements implied that Muhammad had pedophilic tendencies, and in February 2011 convicted Mrs. S. for disparaging religious doctrines.
She was fined €480 (aprox. $547) and the costs of the proceedings.
“Mrs. S. appealed but the Vienna Court of Appeal upheld the decision in December 2011, confirming, in essence, the lower court’s findings. A request for the renewal of the proceedings was dismissed by the Supreme Court on 11 December 2013,” it said.
“Relying on Article 10 (freedom of expression), Mrs. S. complained that the domestic courts failed to address the substance of the impugned statements in the light of her right to freedom of expression.”
On today’s ruling, the ECHR said it “found in particular that the domestic courts comprehensively assessed the wider context of the applicant’s statements and 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 court held “that by considering the impugned statements as going beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate and classifying them as an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam, which could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace, the domestic courts put forward relevant and sufficient reasons.”
The statement also added that there had been no violation of Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, covering freedom of expression.