The 2011 conviction of an Austrian woman over statements suggesting the Prophet Muhammad had paedophilic tendencies did not contravene the right to free speech, the European Court of Human Rights ruled today.  

In E.S. v Austria, seven judges of the Strasbourg court ruled unanimously that Austrian courts had carefully balanced the right to freedom of expression with the right to have religious feelings protected when they fined a woman identified as Mrs S. for statements made in seminars entitled ‘Basic information on Islam’. The courts had the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace, the judgment states. 

Mrs S was appealing a Vienna Court of Appeal decision to uphold a conviction for disparaging religious doctrine. The domestic courts had found that statements about the Prophet's marriage to a six-year-old girl implied that Muhammad had paedophilic tendencies. She was fined €480 and ordered to pay costs. 

Mrs S argued that the domestic courts had failed to address the substance of the statements in the light of her article 10 right to freedom of expression.

In its judgment published today the court noted that people who choose to exercise the freedom to manifest their religion under article 9 of the convention must tolerate the denial by others of their religious beliefs. However it found that the Austrian courts had comprehensively explained why they considered that the statements had been capable of arousing 'justified indignation'. They had carefully balanced the applicant’s right to freedom of expression with the rights of others to have their religious feelings protected.

 Mrs S had 'failed to neutrally inform her audience of the historical background, which consequently did not allow for a serious debate on the issue'.

It found that even in a lively discussion it was not compatible with article 10 'to pack incriminating statements into the wrapping of an otherwise acceptable expression of opinion', Overall, there had been no violation of article 10.