The ECHR Ruling On ‘Defaming’ Muhammad Is An Anti-Muslim Act


The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that ‘defaming’ the Prophet Muhammad “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace”.

The ruling was passed against an Austrian national referred to as ‘E.S’ in reports. Mrs. S, born in 1971 held two seminars in 2009 entitled ‘Basic Information on Islam’.

Referencing Muhammad’s marriage to 6 year old Aisha, Mrs. S was reported to have said “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?”

This lead to a conviction and a failed appeal process:

Mrs S. was later convicted in February 2011 by the Vienna Regional Criminal Court for disparaging religious doctrines and ordered her to pay a fine of 480 euros plus legal fees.

After having her case thrown out by both the Vienna Court of Appeal and Austria’s Supreme Court, the European Court of Human rights backed the courts’ decision to convict Mrs S. on Thursday.

The ECHR found there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ECHR claimed this decision was made to protect “religious feelings” and “the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria.” They went on to add that this sort of “abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam” could “stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace.”

There are many reasons why this decision is an affront to basic human rights such as freedom of speech. However, the ECHR also seems blissfully unaware of the own goal they have scored in “stirring up prejudice” themselves.

It’s this type of special treatment afforded to Muslim “feelings” that sends a clear message that Muslims are different from the rest of us. It tells people that Muslims are to be feared and cannot be expected to respond reasonably to speech they do not like. How low of an opinion must you have of Muslims to claim that “religious peace” would be placed in jeopardy to allow comments of this kind? Islamists and Jihadists share this very same mindset too, but express it in a more concise way: “Don’t criticise our beliefs or we will kill you”.

Whilst the ECHR ruling comes to us from a secular authority, the silence on this decision from prominent Muslims and groups is deafening. How many of these groups and individuals who claim to fight for ‘human rights’ will go on record to defend free speech here? How many will state in no uncertain terms that it should never be illegal to say ‘offensive’ things about Muhammad and Islam? Anything short of this moral clarity is a willingness to allow Islamic blasphemy law. And you cannot claim to be for both ‘human rights’ whilst remaining silent on the imposition of blasphemy.

Furthermore, the people who make these decisions do not seem to understand how counterproductive they are to their own stated goals. The moment you are unreasonably told “you cannot say that”, it becomes absolutely necessary to shout precisely “that” from the rooftops. Expect to hear much more “Muhammad was a Paedophile” rhetoric in the coming weeks, solely in response to this ruling. The ECHR, by their own logic now appear to have risked jeopardising ‘religious peace’.

Speech of this kind should never lead to legal action. What the authorities should do if they have any actual interest in maintaining “peace” is to enforce existing (and reasonable) laws against those who respond to words with violence. This would better serve both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Stephen Knight is host of The #GSPodcast. You can listen to The Godless Spellchecker Podcast here, and support it by becoming a patron here.


  • Many critics say that islam is the religion of hate ie they hate all other religions. This sort of legislation is actually confirming that.
    It is allowing you to say anything you like about other religions because they will not react with mayhem and death.
    Religions like Christianity and Buddhism are about peace and love supposedly, therefore they dont need to be protected. In other words they are saying we must protect hate over love because we are afraid of the consequences if we dont..
    That is an admission that hate is stronger than love which to me is self evident and yet no politician or clergyman in the West would ever admit it or endorse it.

  • robin gangopadhya

    Why mess with what happened centuries ago- that of child marriage. Check in with hindoos in India- they still do it.
    There are lots of creative means of demonstrating inconsistencies in old stuff but you have not been sharpening those abilities clearly. On the other hand, it is problematic that no one in EU has been able to articulate exactly what social constructs/contracts with their huge fraction of population who are Muslim followers- will have to activated with consent of all- to make secular civil society thrive with all. It is evident that those with the name “jumhuriat islamia”…”xxx” nation states are not bastions of civil liberties , to the contrary. In fact, the moment you call yourself by such a declaration, you instantly DENIED existence of any others. And over centuries, that denial has been brutally practiced. result has been wide scale extermination or departures of almost all other communities or eventual conversion. This applies to, in extrema , to Jewish state as well- but it is of recent beginnings only. Their goal is exactly the same- supported by all others who consider themselves “Christian” in essence..Let me point out here what those constructs could center around: one, each old Book must be revised to be consistent with what modern civil societies strive for- equality of all,use of civil laws, freedom from & of coercive instructions in the good Books, symmetry in social behavior i.e., if you opt to come in one fold, your rights to leave are guaranteed by civil law & it shall be against local laws to apply any coercive pressures on freedom choice, you cannot make your Book instructions to be “superior” to any others & you must demonstrate how your Book community participates in making OTHER book or non-book communities thrive! Your community cannot have contradictory practices to the civil society at large. Dismembering, killing old fashioned way under the name of the Book shall be openly shamed.
    Now with these constructs, go build a more peaceful, harmonious civil society.
    And you wont need to resort to noneffective means of cartooning, caricaturing and provoking anyone.

    • Unfortunately you can’t revise the “perfect word of God” and remain a Muslim. This is confirmed by Islamic scholars the world over. Are you really telling Muslims how to Muslim while they tell you it cannot happen like that?
      Maybe a new religion (Isn’tlam?) can come about, that doesn’t have the massive socioeconopolitical elements that Islam has, and can actually reform the teachings

      • robin gangopadhya

        Very true where when it originated. Adopting to secular society, accepting the true real fact that we form a civil society where moeurs are totally opposite of contents of many books( all of EU had similar heavy weights on their necks until “reformation/renaissance”- after which the priests/churches were put on the side lines & new social contract developed)- is the price they have to pay for living in harmony, peace and yet thrive while all can practice privately whatever their books enjoin to be. I see much further progress in FREE civil societies- this black plague of intolerance, fascista/zionista period will wither away. Do not see that happening in close confines of monolithic mutually enhanced tyrannic social formations. Include gun toting WMD loaded US of A in this latter category.

  • This is just insanity at its peak. The ECHR clearly has just lunatics as judges. Mohammed had clearly commited pedophilea, if this figure even EXISTED! The jugdes obviously dont care about facts and free speech. This case, if it is real, should ring EVERY alarmbell there is for every democrat in the EU who KNOWS what it means to have freedom of speech, after the forming of the EU, at least that we are so often told, is the result of a dark age in the 20th century. The result of a time where people had to be silent in many countries, spain, italy and germany just on the top of that. And what they do know and call it HUMAN RIGHTS? This is just insane, try this shit on me. Mohammed, if that figure existed, had fucking sex with a child. Every judge should be ashamed of that ruling. Spineless pricks!

  • Thanks, Stephen, for always taking a firm stance on freedom of speech. Good points about the bias of low expectations against a whole community and the own-goal being scored by these self-appointed keepers of ‘religious peace’; but I’m still reeling from the fact that courts in modern, secular Europe actually handle freedom of speech as just one thing to weigh and no more weighty than ‘religious feelings’! While the ‘Muhammad was a paedophile’ is a rather tired, anti-Muslim trope, I cannot help but share your hope that there will be an up-tick in such speech in response to this irresponsible ruling.

  • Except, that isn’t what the ECHR ruled at all.

    I was initially staggered by this ruling. In all other cases I’ve looked into where the ECHR’s rulings have been criticised and, on the face of it, appeared wrong headed, once you look into the detail and context of the decisions they have always made a lot of sense. I couldn’t get my head around this decision – until I found an explanation on, of all places, Reddit.

    “The actual judgment itself can be found here if you want to read it in full, rather than the press release:

    The ECtHR didn’t say that insulting the Prophet Muhammad was not free speech. In fact, the opposite:

    The Court considers, and this was common ground between the parties, that the criminal conviction giving rise to the instant case amounted to an interference with the applicant’s right to freedom of expression.
    However, Article 10 does allow domestic states (in this case Austria) to curtail freedom of spreech where they have a “legitimate aim” that is “necessary to a democratic society”.

    The Austrian state argued that they prohibit certain forms of expression in order to preserve the peace and prevent religious antagonism. The ECtHR was not overwhelmingly convinced by this, but stated:

    In examining whether restrictions on the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention can be considered “necessary in a democratic society”, the Court has frequently held that the Contracting States enjoy a certain margin of appreciation…
    In other words: we’re not going to interfere with the domestic Austrian legal system unless the case is much more clear cut than the one in front of us.

    So don’t blame the ECtHR. They can’t overstep the domestic Austrian legal system on this issue.”

    I’m deeply concerned at how this decision is being distorted and how noone is stopping to question whether the common interpretation of the decision is the correct one. It risks doing huge (further) damage to the credibility of human rights and Europe for no reason other than a lack of understanding and skepticism of press reports.

    • The case couldn’t be more clear cut, hate facts have become illegal facts. Tropes are also facts. Now, when you make facts illegal are you not risking totalitarianism? This is the issue with the ruling. Religious feelings are trumping FACTS. Get your head around that. Extrapolate. Every time I see a mosque MY religious feelings are trampled on. Do I get justice from the ECHR? Should I? What if 5million people also complained? Would the ECHR call mosques illegal due to my hurt religious feelings?

      • My point is just that you should be aiming all that criticism at Austria, not the ECHR.

        Isn’t allowing countries the right to set their own laws what many people want? The ECHR just refused to intervene. They ruling had no other significance beyond that, except to confirm that existing international human rights law doesn’t define clearly enough how far states can go in limiting freedom of speech.

  • Priest_of_Ramen

    Thanks for posting the link to the actual ruling. You are right in pointing out that press reports can often give a misleading, simplistic impression of a complex legal issue.

    However, the ruling still makes for chilling reading if you’re concerned about free speech – at least in Austria. The Austrian courts’ rulings reads as repeated “you have freedom of speech, but…” and then go on to put a lot of weight on religious people’s rights not to have their feelings hurt. As Stephen rightly alludes to in his post, stirring the indignation of Muslims is seen as such a threat to the ‘religious peace’ of the country, it comes across as a bigotry of low expectation (or, if a realistic assessment, all the more reason to promote critical debate of Islam). The ECHR may well have stayed within its brief, but it has nevertheless validated a judicial infringement of free speech in a Member state.

    The fact that Austrian judges and a Freedom Party guest-speaker have to quibble over the sexual preferences and marriage history of a semi-mythical figure from 7th century Arabia, to say nothing of the absurdity of referring to ‘factual basis’ where all you have are Islamic myths and dogma, should have been reason enough for this case not to be worth any court’s time.

    But it seems that the Prophet of Islam – whether paedophile or not – is kryptonite to secular values and common sense.

  • If Mohamed had sex with aisha when she was.9 we would today consider this paefophilia. Unfortunately this has encouraged child brides in some muslim countries.

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