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European Human-Rights Court: Defaming Muhammad Not Protected Speech

Members of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, in 2017. (Jean-Francois Badias/Pool/via Reuters)

Defamatory statements about the prophet Muhammad are not covered by free-speech protections, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday.

The Strasbourg-based court found that insulting the prophet “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace.”

In its ruling, the court rejected an Austrian woman’s claim that her previous conviction for characterizing Muhammad as a “pedophile” violated her free-speech rights, finding instead that the Austrian court had “carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected.”

In a series of public seminars, the women cited Muhammad’s marriage to a six-year-old girl, which, according to Islamic lore, was consummated when she was nine, as evidence of his pedophilia.

Muhammad “liked to do it with children,” the woman said during one of the seminars. “A 56-year-old and a 6-year-old? . . . What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?”

The woman was initially convicted of disparaging religious doctrines by a Vienna court in 2011 and sentenced to pay a $547 fine. An Austrian appeals court later upheld the decision.

While the woman argued that her comments were intended to inform the public debate over the merits of different religious traditions, the court argued that her remarks lacked the proper historical context.

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