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Free Speech Found Guilty by Europe

Flemming Rose, editor of the Danish newspaper that published the cartoons of Mohammed which set off a storm in the Muslim world

Flemming Rose, editor of the Danish newspaper that published the cartoons of Mohammed which set off a storm in the Muslim world
Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90

Lars Hedegaard, the president of the Danish Free Press Society, has been acquitted by the Danish Supreme Court on charges of “hate speech” for critical comments he made about Islam.

The verdict, however represents only a partial victory for free speech in a Europe that is being stifled by politically correct restrictions on free speech, particularly on issues related to Islam.

Although Hedegaard was acquitted, it was on a legal technicality; in its ruling, the Supreme Court stressed that the substance of the charges against Hedegaard — public criticism of Islam, — is still a crime punishable by imprisonment.

Hedegaard’s legal problems began in December 2009, when he said in a taped interview that there was a high incidence of child rape and domestic violence in areas dominated by Muslim culture. Although Hedegaard insisted that he did not intend to accuse all Muslims or even the majority of Muslims of such crimes, Denmark’s thought-police were incensed at such effrontery; the Danish public prosecutor’s office declared that Hedegaard was guilty of violating Article 266b of the Danish penal code, a catch-all provision that Danish elites use to enforce politically correct speech codes.

The infamous Article 266b states: “Whoever publicly or with the intent of public dissemination issues a pronouncement or other communication by which a group of persons are threatened, insulted or denigrated due to their race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation is liable to a fine or incarceration for up to two years.”

In January 2011, a Danish lower court acquitted Hedegaard of any wrongdoing. But public prosecutors appealed that verdict and in May 2011, a Danish superior court found Hedegaard guilty of hate speech in accordance with Article 266b because he “ought to have known” that his statements regarding family rape in Muslim families were intended for public dissemination.

On April 20, 2012, the Danish Supreme Court decided that the prosecution had failed to prove that Hedegaard was aware that his statements would be published. Although Hedegaard was thus acquitted, the court also made a special point of ruling that the substance of his statements, namely the public criticism of Islam, is a violation of Article 266b.

As a result, although Hedegaard has been cleared of wrongdoing, the Supreme Court has affirmed the legal restrictions on free speech in Denmark.

Hedegaard’s case is similar to recent or current ones in Austria, Finland, France, Italy, and the Netherlands and exemplifies the growing use of lawfare: the malicious use of European courts to silence public discussion about the growing problem of Muslim immigration.

In Austria, for example, an appellate court in December 2011 upheld the politically correct conviction of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, a Viennese housewife and anti-Jihad activist, for “denigrating religious beliefs” after she gave a series of seminars about the dangers of radical Islam. The ruling showed that while Judaism and Christianity can be disparaged with impunity in postmodern multicultural Austria, speaking the truth about Islam is subject to swift and hefty legal penalties.

Also in Austria, Susanne Winter, an Austrian politician and Member of Parliament, was convicted in January 2009 for the “crime” of saying that “in today’s system” the Islamic prophet Mohammed would be considered a “child molester.” She was referring to Mohammed’s marriage to nine-year-old Aisha. Winter was also convicted of “incitement” for saying that Austria faces an “Islamic immigration tsunami.” Winters was ordered to pay a fine of €24,000 ($31,000), and received a suspended three-month prison sentence.

In Denmark, Jesper Langballe, a Danish politician and Member of Parliament, was found guilty of hate speech in December 2010 for saying that honor killings and sexual abuse take place in Muslim families.

Langballe was denied the opportunity to prove his assertions because under Danish law it is immaterial whether a statement is true or false. All that is needed for a conviction is for someone to feel offended. Langballe was summarily sentenced to pay a fine of 5,000 Danish Kroner ($850) or spend ten days in jail.

In Finland, Jussi Kristian Halla-aho, a politician and well-known political commentator, was taken to court in March 2009 on charges of “incitement against an ethnic group” and “breach of the sanctity of religion” for saying that Islam is a religion of pedophilia. A Helsinki court later dropped the charges of blasphemy but ordered Halla-aho to pay a fine of €330 ($450) for disturbing religious worship. The Finnish public prosecutor, incensed at the court’s dismissal of the blasphemy charges, appealed the case to the Finnish Supreme Court, where it is now being reviewed.

In France, novelist Michel Houellebecq was taken to court by Islamic authorities in the French cities of Paris and Lyon for calling Islam “the stupidest religion” and for saying the Koran is “badly written.” In court, Houellebecq (pronounced Wellbeck) told the judges that although he had never despised Muslims, he did feel contempt for Islam. He was acquitted in October 2002.

About the Author: The writer is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group, one of the oldest and most influential foreign policy think tanks in Spain.


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