In 2009, the defendant held two seminars entitled “Basic Information on Islam,” in which she compared Muhammad’s marriage to a six-year-old girl, Aisha, to pedophilia.
Most accounts put Aisha’s birth around late 613 or early 614. She was six or seven years old when she was married to Muhammad in Mecca and he consummated the marriage when she was reportedly ten. Muhammad was around 50 at the time.
For most of us in the free speech community, the differing views of this marriage is immaterial to the right of both sides to be free to state their views. However, complainants have sought to silence critics like this woman by seeking criminal fines.
Moreover, I am not particularly interested in how the woman expressed her views since they raise core religious and political values. The court said that she stated that Muhammad “liked to do it with children” and “… A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? … What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?” That was found to be “disparaging religion” and lower courts upheld the conviction.
The Strasbourg-based ECHR ruled that the woman’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.”
The ECHR engaged in what is now an all-too-familiar effort to deny its obvious denial of free speech by saying that freedom of religion did not protect religions from criticism but they upheld the punishment of someone for doing precisely that. It simply declared that the woman’s comments “could only be understood as having been aimed at demonstrating that Muhammad was not worthy of worship.”
The opinion is perfectly Orwellian in saying that you cannot get away with using free speech by simply claiming the right of free speech. The court rejected that people are entitled to free speech by simply “pack[ing] 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.”
That type of circular logic would be laughable if it were not so chilling.
We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. These prosecutions are part of a new and dangerous attack on free speech. We previously discussed the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard. The effort by Muslim countries to establish an international blasphemy standard ran into opposition in the West so a new effort to launched to use hate crimes and discrimination law to achieve the purpose.
This new ruling shows the rapid abandonment of the European courts of fundamental values of free speech. The ECHR has now established itself as legitimizing the criminalization of speech in Europe.