An Austrian woman who was convicted for insulting the Prophet Mohammed did not have her right to freedom of speech violated, a European court has ruled.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that courts in Austria, where the woman was found guilty, had balanced the "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 woman, who has been named only as ES, held seminars in 2009 for Austria’s far right Freedom Party in which she made defamatory remarks relating to the Prophet Mohammed’s marriage to Aisha, which is usually misrepresented as being to an underage girl.
A court in Vienna convicted her for disparaging religious doctrines in 2011 and fined her 480 euros (Dh2,000) plus costs. The conviction was upheld by two further domestic appeals.
ES had claimed that the comments were not designed to defame the Prophet Mohammed and had fallen within her right to freedom of speech. She added that they were intended to spark a public debate.
But the ECHR said the remarks were an “abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam” and were capable of stirring up prejudice and religious intolerance.
The Strasbourg-based court added that the comments had no intention of promoting a public debate.
An estimated 600,000 Muslims make up around 6.8 per cent of Austria’s population, an increase of 2.6 per cent since 2001 when there were 338,988 Muslims living in the country.
While most Austrian Muslims are of Turkish origin, the highly-politicised migration crisis in 2015 gave rise to growing anti-Islamic sentiment in the country. Far-right Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was elected in 2017 promising to crackdown on what he called “political Islam” and illegal immigration. Mr Kurz, leader of the OVP, formed a coalition government in December with the anti-Islamic Freedom Party, which had also campaigned to tighten the country’s immigration policies.
Earlier this year the government closed down seven mosques, six of which were suspected of having extremist links, and expelled up to 60 imams it said were funded by Turkey.
The move was criticised by Austrian Islamic groups as well as Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who accused Mr Kurz of encouraging “a war between the cross and the crescent”.