Austrian woman's conviction for calling Prophet Muhammad a paedophile upheld

An Austrian woman fined for saying Islam's Prophet Muhammad was a paedophile has failed to have her conviction overturned.

The 47-year-old, only known as Mrs S, held two seminars in 2009 called 'Basic Information on Islam', the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) states. In those seminars she claimed Muhammad - who founded Islam in the seventh century - married a six-year-old and "liked to do it with children".

"A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? ... What do we call it, if it is not paedophilia?" she said.

In 2011 she was convicted by the Vienna Regional Criminal Court, and ordered to pay a fine of €480 and costs. Mrs S lost her initial appeal later that year.

In 2012 Mrs S took her case to the ECHR, saying she had rights to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, her comments were not "aimed at defaming the Prophet of Islam", and religious groups "had to tolerate even severe criticism".

Article 10 states freedom of speech "carries with it duties and responsibilities" such as not inciting disorder and crime, protecting "health and morals" and protecting "the reputation or rights of others".

The ECHR said Mrs S' comments "had not been made in an objective manner contributing to a debate of public interest [and] could only be understood as having been aimed at demonstrating that Muhammad was not worthy of worship".

"Mrs S must have been aware that her statements were partly based on untrue facts and apt to arouse indignation in others," the court said.

"The national courts found that Mrs S had subjectively labelled Muhammad with paedophilia as his general sexual preference, and that she failed to neutrally inform her audience of the historical background, which consequently did not allow for a serious debate on that issue."

Muhammad had numerous wives, but Mrs S' focused in on Aisha, who is generally believed to have been around six or seven years old when she was married to the prophet. Historical sources say the marriage went unconsummated until Aisha was nine or 10.

Child marriage was common at the time, and often done for political reasons - Aisha's father was Abu Bakr, who would go on to become the first caliph following Muhammad's death.

The ECHR ruled the initial conviction and fine should stand.

"The domestic courts comprehensively assessed the wider context of the applicant's statements and carefully balanced her 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.

"It held that by considering the impugned statements as going beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate, and by classifying them as an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam which could stir up prejudice and threaten religious peace, the domestic courts put forward relevant and sufficient reasons."

Debates over free speech have intensified in recent years, the internet and social media giving more people access to a wider audience than ever before.