The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that criticism of Mohammed, the founder of Islam, constitutes incitement to hatred and therefore is not protected free speech.
With its unprecedented decision, the Strasbourg-based court — which has jurisdiction over 47 European countries, and whose rulings are legally binding on all 28 member states of the European Union — has effectively legitimized an Islamic blasphemy code in the interests of "preserving religious peace" in Europe.
The case involves Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, an Austrian woman who in 2011 was convicted of "denigrating religious beliefs" after giving a series of lectures about the dangers of fundamentalist Islam.
Sabaditsch-Wolff's legal problems began in November 2009, when she presented a three-part seminar about Islam to the Freedom Education Institute, a political academy linked to the Austrian Freedom Party — which today forms part of the Austrian government. A left-leaning weekly magazine, News, planted a journalist in the audience to secretly record the lectures. Lawyers for the publication then handed the transcripts over to the Viennese public prosecutor's office as evidence of hate speech against Islam, according to Section 283 of the Austrian Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch, StGB).
The offending speech was an offhand comment by Sabaditsch-Wolff that Mohammed was a pedophile because he married his wife Aisha when she was just six or seven years old. Sabaditsch-Wolff's actual words were, "A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?"
Indeed, most hadiths (collections of traditions containing the words and actions of Mohammed) confirm that Aisha was prepubescent when Mohammed married her and was only nine years old when the marriage was consummated. Mohammed's actions would today be unlawful in Austria, so Sabaditsch-Wolff's comments were factually, if not politically, correct.
Formal charges against Sabaditsch-Wolff were filed in September 2010 and her bench trial, presided over by one judge and no jury, began that November. On February 15, 2011, Sabaditsch-Wolff was convicted of "denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion," according to Section 188 of the Austrian Criminal Code.
The judge rationalized that Mohammed's sexual contact with nine-year-old Aisha could not be considered pedophilia because Mohammed continued his marriage to Aisha until his death. According to this line of thinking, Mohammed had no exclusive desire for underage girls; he was also attracted to older females because Aisha was 18 years old when Mohammed died.
The judge ordered Sabaditsch-Wolff to pay a fine of €480 ($550) or an alternative sentence of 60 days in prison. Moreover, she was required to pay the costs of the trial.