Calling Prophet Muhammad a Pedophile Not Protected by Free Speech, Court Rules

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that calling the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile was not protected by freedom of speech laws.

The case was brought by an Austrian woman in her forties identified only as "E.S.," who was convicted of disparaging religion and fined $546 for branding the founder of Islam a pedophile during a seminar in 2009.

According to Deutsche Welle, the court, which is based in Strasbourg, France, said the Austrian judge that first ruled on the case correctly weighed 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 charge stemmed from two seminars called “Basic Information on Islam” that had been organized by E.S. During the meetings, she spoke about Muhammad’s controversial marriage to Aisha, which, according to Islamic tradition, was consummated when she was 9 years old and Muhammad 50.

According to the court, the woman told attendees about things the prophet “liked to do with children” and said, “A 56-year-old and a 6-year-old?... What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?”

The woman’s conviction was upheld by other national courts before reaching the ECHR. The claimant suggested her comments were covered by freedom of speech laws and that the issue was one of religious groups being unable to tolerate criticism. She also argued her comments were not intended to defame the prophet, merely to contribute to the public debate.

The ECHR ruled that while religions were not exempt from criticism or denial of their beliefs, the woman’s comments were not objective and lacked historical context. It also believed her language “could only be understood as having been aimed at demonstrating that Muhammad was not worthy of worship” and were designed to belittle Islam.

The court also noted the difference between pedophilia and child marriage, and said the woman had failed to show “that his primary sexual interest in Aisha had been her not yet having reached puberty or that his other wives or concubines had been similarly young.

“In particular, the applicant had disregarded the fact that the marriage with Aisha had continued until the Prophet’s death, when she had already turned eighteen and had therefore passed the age of puberty,” the ruling added.

The seven-judge panel also stated it was unacceptable “to pack 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.”

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