On February 15, 2011, the Austrian human rights defender Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was convicted of “hate speech” in a Vienna courtroom for what she had said in a private seminar about Muhammad and Islam.
The original charge was “incitement to hatred”[i]. On the second day of her trial, the judge at her own discretion added a second charge, “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion.”[ii] Elisabeth was acquitted of the first charge, but convicted of the second.
She was sentenced to pay a fine of €480. She eventually appealed her case to two higher-level courts in Austria, and the verdict was upheld in both instances. As the defense attorney considers these verdicts to be in violation of fundamental human rights, he has now taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights, which will be the final arbiter in this conflict of freedom of expression and protecting religious beliefs from denigration.
How could this happen in a European state that recognizes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights,[iii], and enshrines the right to free speech in its Constitution?
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff is the daughter of a retired diplomat in the Austrian foreign service. During her childhood and young adulthood, she experienced Islam up close and personal, in places such as Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Libya. She was in Tehran with her parents during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. On September 11, 2001, Elisabeth was working in the Austrian embassy in Tripoli. She saw the Libyan people celebrate the destruction of the World Trade Center and the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans. All of these experiences were lessons she took to heart, but 9-11 motivated her to examine Islam more closely over the next few years.
In early 2008 she began a series of seminars in Vienna, under the auspices of the Austrian Freedom Party FPÖ, explaining to members and other interested parties what Islam, the Qur’an, and the hadith really teach. She also outlined the basic tenets of Islamic law, showing the consequences for democracy, freedom, and human rights today.
For the next year and a half, the interest in her seminars grew, and attendance increased. The success of her lectures drew the interest of Austrian leftists, who are as determined as leftists in other Western countries to discredit and destroy the work of those who criticize the tenets of Islamic doctrine, whom they view as “racists”, “fascists”, and “Islamophobes”. Unbeknownst to Elisabeth, the left-wing magazine NEWS sent a reporter to one of her seminars to make a surreptitious recording of it.
As a result, in late November 2009, a criminal complaint was filed against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff for “hate speech” under article 283 in the Austrian criminal code. From an Austrian leftist point of view, her offense was compounded by the fact that her seminars were held under the auspices of the FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, ”The Austrian Freedom Party”). Despite its popularity with Austrian voters, giving it over 20 % of the vote in the 2013 elections, FPÖ is reviled as a “xenophobic” party by leftist media and politicians.
The complaint in the case against Elisabeth was not filed by the state, but rather by the NEWS magazine, the publication whose reporter had infiltrated the seminar. For the next ten months, the possibility of a formal charge was left hanging over Elisabeth’s head, but she received no official word about what might happen to her. All she could do was retain legal counsel and wait.
In April 2010, she provided a deposition to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Prevention of Terrorism. After that, there was nothing from the prosecutor’s office. Finally, on September 15, Elisabeth learned that a formal charge would be filed against her. Ironically enough, she didn’t find out through a court document, an official summons, or her lawyer. Instead, she learned of the charge by reading about it in the press — in NEWS, the very same magazine that had published the undercover report and filed the complaint against her. A few days later she received official notice from the court: her trial date would be November 23, 2010.
During her trial, the issue of pedophilia came up, in light of Muhammad’s status as the perfect example for Muslims, as stated in Quran 33:21. According to Islamic doctrine, everything Muhammad ever did or said (as recorded in Islamic scripture) is to be considered model behavior for Muslims. Elisabeth explained what the hadith collections are, and that they constitute an indispensable part of Islamic scripture, due to 33:21 and similar Quranic statements. She emphasized that she had made up none of what she said, but simply quoted canonical Islamic scripture concerning Muhammad’s conduct, including his marriage to a minor girl (Aisha).
Elisabeth then explained polygamy in Islam and the fact that this is a reality today, even in Europe. Elisabeth rounded off her testimony by talking about the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, explaining to the court the absolute right to express one’s opinions as a prerequisite for a well-functioning democracy.
Because the eight-hour tape of her seminars would have to be played, the judge adjourned the trial until January 18, 2011, the first date when a full day’s session could be scheduled.
At the second hearing in January, excerpts from the seminar recordings were played back, demonstrating that the original charge of “incitement to hatred” was unjustified. In the process, the defense discussed the Muslim Brotherhood and its extensive political influence within Austria and the rest of Europe. Elisabeth explained the Brotherhood’s desire to implement religious rule (shariah) and its support for terrorism to attain this end.
The judge discussed Elisabeth’s statement that the conduct of Muhammad is exemplary for Muslims, and took particular issue with the statement “What exactly that would be called today, if not pedophilia?”
Here are the exact words Elisabeth used:
I remember talking with a friend — and I have recounted this story a few times already — about Susanne Winter’s infamous talk. My friend called me on the phone, saying, “Oh my God, did you tell her that?” “No, it wasn’t me, but you can find it in the books, it’s not a secret.” She: “But you can’t say it that way.” Me: “A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? What do you call that? Give me an example. What do you call it if not pedophilia?” She: “Well, you have to use a circumlocution, be more diplomatic.” My friend is symptomatic. We have heard this so often: “Those were different times.” I say, No, [this behavior] wasn’t OK back then and it is not OK today. Period. And this (old men marrying young girls) is still happening today. This is never to be condoned.
Later in the hearing the judge, at her own discretion, announced a new charge: “Denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion.” Elisabeth’s defense was unprepared for this and requested that the trial be adjourned.
When the court reconvened in February, events moved swiftly to a close. The judge decided that the language used in Elisabeth’s seminars did not incite hatred, but the utterances regarding Muhammad and pedophilia were punishable. In particular, the judge found that the use of “pedophilia” was factually incorrect, as this is a sexual preference solely or mainly directed towards children. The judge stated that this does not apply to Mohammad, who was still married to Aisha when she was 18. Thus, Elisabeth was found not guilty on the count of “incitement to hatred”, but guilty on the charge of “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion”, to be punished with a €480 fine or 60 days of prison.
Elisabeth’s reaction was: “This is a sad day for my daughter and for all girls.”
The final court verdict listed three statements as being in violation of Austrian law. One was quoted above, a second statement reads:
One of the great problems we have today is that Mohammed is seen as the ideal man, the perfect human being, the perfect Muslim. That means that the highest commandment for a male Muslim is to emulate Mohammed, to live his life. That does not fit with our social standards and laws. Because he was a warlord, had a comparatively large number of women, liked to get it on with children. According to our ideas, he was not a perfect human being. Today, we have a huge problem with that, because Muslims come into conflict with democracy and our value system…”
The charge on which Elisabeth was eventually convicted was ludicrous on the face of it. Not only did she never say that Muhammad’s actions constituted “pedophilia”, but Muhammad’s actions — which were undisputed by the court — included having sex with a nine-year-old girl. If she had said what she was accused of, it would have been nothing more than the simple truth, and unexceptional from the standpoint of any normal person.
The precedent established by Elisabeth’s case would imply that Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man who began sexually abusing his daughter when she was 11, fathered her children, and kept her a prisoner for 24 years, was not a pedophile, because their incestuous relationship continued after the victim was 18.
Did the judge intend to set a precedent on pedophilia when she handed down the verdict in Elisabeth’s case?
Elisabeth appealed her case to a higher court, where on December 20, 2011, the verdict was upheld. Most recently, the case was considered by the Austrian Supreme Court, which upheld the verdict on December 11, 2013. Additional comments by the appellate courts can be found in the timeline on the following page.
The options for domestic justice are now exhausted, and the case has been brought to the European Court of Human Rights, which has accepted the case. It is expected to rule on it sometime during 2014. This verdict will have implications for citizens throughout Europe, not only for citizens of Austria, and will set an important precedent for the freedom to criticize religions and/or religiously sanctioned conduct.
Well-known public figures who have publicly supported Elisabeth include former congressman Allen West, the Canadian writer Mark Steyn, and European politicians Geert Wilders (Netherlands), Kent Ekeroth (Sweden), Heinz-Christian Strache (Austria), René Stadtkewitz (Germany), and Oskar Freysinger (Switzerland). She has found additional support from Pat Condell (Great Britain) in his widely-viewed videos, as well as from the Danish historian Lars Hedegaard of the International Free Press Society.
Elisabeth has met extensively with members of Congress: Rep. Trent Franks, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and former Rep. Allen West. She has briefed members of both the US House and Senate on Capitol Hill in 2010, 2012, and 2013.
Her US speaking engagements have included the Ahavath Torah Congregation, ACT! For Canada (Montreal), ACT! For America, The United West, the Center for Security Policy, The Lawfare Project, and members of the Knesset in Israel.
She is a board member of the Viennese Association of Academics (Wiener Akademikerbund) and Citizens’ Movement Pax Europa (BPE), and as a representative of the latter, has been an active defender of freedom at several Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conferences on human rights.
At the 2013 ACT! For the America National Conference, Elisabeth presented the “Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff Profiles in Courage Award” to, among others, former Rep. Allen West.
January 2008 ESW began series of three-part seminars on ideology and effect of Islam, particularly in Europe. At first, attendance was about 10 people per session. Later it increased to 35.
October 2009 Infiltration of leftist magazine journalist in 2 seminars.
November 2009 The story broke in NEWS magazine. ESW was reported to the authorities.
February 2010 Interview with Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Terrorism Prevention.
April 2010 ESW submitted extensive written answers to questions from Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Terrorism Prevention.
October 2010 ESW was informed via NEWS magazine of indictment and impending trial.
Nov. 23, 2010 First day of the trial. 2.5 hrs of intensive questioning by the judge
Jan. 18, 2011 The Court reconvened, new charges of “Denigrating the teaching of a legally recognized religion” introduced by the case judge. No verdict; the trial was adjourned until February 15th.
Feb. 15, 2011 Verdict:
Dec. 20, 2011 Verdict upheld by the appellate court, noting that her statements constituted “an excess of opinion” punishable under Austrian law.
Dec. 11, 2013 Verdict upheld by the Austrian supreme court, noting that Article 9 (freedom of religion) of the European Convention of Human Rights overrides Article 10 (freedom of expression)
Current status The case is pending at the European Court of Human Rights, which is expected to rule on it during 2014.
Yesterday the ECHR ruled against Elisabeth, justifying its decision by the need to safeguard religious peace. Here’s the press release she sent out:
On Thursday, 25 October the ECHR ruled that my conviction by an Austrian court for discussing the marriage between Prophet Mohammed and a six-year-old girl, Aisha, did not infringe my rights of freedom of speech.
I was not extended the courtesy of being told of this ruling. Like many others, I had to read it in the media.
The ECHR found there had been no violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the right to free expression needed to be balanced with the rights of others to have their religious feelings protected, and that the verdict had served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria.
In other words, my right to speak freely is less important than protecting the religious feelings of others.
This should ring warning bells for my fellow citizens across the continent. We should all be extremely concerned that the rights of Muslims in Europe NOT to be offended are greater than my own rights, as a native European Christian woman, to speak freely.
I am proud to be the woman who has raised this alarm.
I am also optimistic. Since giving my seminars in Austria in 2009, we have come a very long way.
Ten years ago the press labeled me a “confused doom-monger” and I was compared to Osama Bin Laden. Now Islam is being discussed in every sphere of life and people are waking up to the reality of a culture so opposed to our own.
The cultural and political threat posed by Islam to Western societies is now widely recognized and discussed. It is fair to say European society, as well as the political realm, is undergoing an enlightenment, as it is more awake than ever to the need to defend our own Judeo-Christian culture.
I believe my seminars in 2009 and subsequent work have contributed to strong pushback against an Islamic culture that is so at odds with our own. And note with interest that only one sentence out of twelve hours of seminars on Islam was a prosecutable offense. I assume the remaining content is now officially sanctioned by our Establishment masters.
It is obvious to me that public education and discourse on the subject of Islam can have a fundamental and far-reaching impact, even if our state or supra-national authorities try to stifle or silence it, in order to appease a culture so foreign to our own.
This fight continues. My voice will not and cannot be silenced.
According to KGS of Tundra Tabloids, Finland’s liberal MSM flagship Helsingin Sanomat headlined the decision: “European Court of Human Rights: Invoking Prophet Muhammad as pedophile does not fall within the scope of freedom of expression.” It compared Elisabeth’s case with that of Jussi Halla-aho.
“Elisabeth’s Voice”: http://gatesofvienna.
Wer öffentlich auf eine Weise, die geeignet ist, die öffentliche Ordnung zu gefährden, oder wer für eine breite Öffentlichkeit wahrnehmbar zu Gewalt gegen eine Kirche oder Religionsgesellschaft oder eine andere nach den Kriterien der Rasse, der Hautfarbe, der Sprache, der Religion oder Weltanschauung, der Staatsangehörigkeit, der Abstammung oder nationalen oder ethnischen Herkunft, des Geschlechts, einer Behinderung, des Alters oder der sexuellen Ausrichtung definierte Gruppe von Personen oder gegen ein Mitglied einer solchen Gruppe ausdrücklich wegen dessen Zugehörigkeit zu dieser Gruppe auffordert oder aufreizt, ist mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu zwei Jahren zu bestrafen.
Wer öffentlich eine Person oder eine Sache, die den Gegenstand der Verehrung einer im Inland bestehenden Kirche oder Religionsgesellschaft bildet, oder eine Glaubenslehre, einen gesetzlich zulässigen Brauch oder eine gesetzlich zulässige Einrichtung einer solchen Kirche oder Religionsgesellschaft unter Umständen herabwürdigt oder verspottet, unter denen sein Verhalten geeignet ist, berechtigtes Ärgernis zu erregen, ist mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu sechs Monaten oder mit Geldstrafe bis zu 360 Tagessätzen zu bestrafen.
Articles from the Convention relevant to the case:
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Freedom of expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
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