Judges have backed Austria and rejected a woman’s human rights complaint following her conviction for making insulting comments about the Prophet Muhammad.
In today’s Chamber judgment1 in the case of E.S. v. Austria (application no. 38450/12) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:
no violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case concerned the applicant’s conviction for disparaging religious doctrines by making statements that conveyed the message that Muhammad had had paedophilic tendencies.
The applicant, E.S., is an Austrian national who was born in 1971 and lives in Vienna (Austria).
In October and November 2009, she held two seminars entitled “Basic Information on Islam”, in which she referred to the marriage between the Prophet Muhammad and the six-year old Aisha, which allegedly was consummated when she was nine. Inter alia, the applicant 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 paedophilia?.”
On 15 February 2011 the Vienna Regional Criminal Court found that these statements implicated that Muhammad had had paedophilic tendencies, and convicted E.S for disparaging religious doctrines.
She was ordered to pay a fine of 480 euros and the costs of the proceedings. The woman
appealed but the Vienna Court of Appeal upheld the decision in December 2011, confirming in essence the lower court’s findings.
In its decision, the European court 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 to have religious peace preserved in Austria.
It 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.