She cited the case of anti-jihad activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, who was convicted by an Austrian court of “denigrating religious symbols of a recognized religious group” after she described Islam’s prophet Muhammad as a pedophile for marrying a 6-year-old and consummating the relationship when the girl was 9.
The court ruled the statements go “beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate,” and could be classified as “an abusive attack on the prophet of Islam which could stir up prejudice and threaten religious peace.”
Sabaditsch-Wolff was charged after a magazine recorded her seminars, which were titled “Introduction to the basics of Islam,” “The Islamization of Europe” and “The impact of Islam.”
She was convicted of disparaging Islam and ordered to pay a fine of 480 euros and the costs of the proceedings. Her appeal to the ECHR cited her freedom of expression.
Bergman noted the ruling conflicted with the court’s previous decisions, which found Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects not only “the information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also those that offend, shock or disturb; such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broad-mindedness without which there is no democratic society.”
Opinions expressed in strong or exaggerated language were also protected.
Now, however, Berman said, “the ECHR has departed from this previous case law by making a relevant societal issue – discussing the behavior of Muhammad, who continues to be a role model to more than a billion Muslims — off limits by ruling that discussing aspects of his behavior are not covered by the right to freedom of speech.”
The court went even went further in its surrender, she asserted.
“Not only did the ECHR seemingly depart from formerly held positions; it also held that: ‘even in a lively discussion it was not compatible with Article 10 of the Convention 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,'” she wrote.
Lively discussions are protected in a democratic society because “that is what freedom of expression is all about,” Bergman argued.
“Now, however, the ECHR has set a clear boundary: Even if you are having a lively discussion, which would usually be protected, referring to Muhammad – in supposedly ‘incriminating statements’ – is prohibited, even if you do not use disturbing or shocking language but formulate the defamation in the wrapping of an otherwise acceptable expression of opinion.'”
She recalled that the Inquisition decided what is “incriminating.”
“According to this latest judgment, defaming the Islamic prophet Muhammad, even if inadvertently, is quite simply always unacceptable, regardless of the language.”
Bergman said real message the ECHR sent is that if threats work, keep threatening.
“What sort of protection of human rights is that?”