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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.

Also in France, Brigitte Bardot, the legendary actress turned animal rights crusader, was convicted in June 2008 for “inciting racial hatred” after demanding that Muslims anaesthetize animals before slaughtering them.

Elsewhere in France, Marie Laforêt, one of the country’s most well-known singers and actresses, appeared in a Paris courtroom in December 2011 to defend herself against charges that a job advertisement she placed discriminated against Muslims.

The 72-year-old Laforêt had placed an ad on an Internet website looking for someone to do some work on her terrace in 2009. She specified in the ad that “people with allergies or orthodox Muslims” should not apply “due to a small Chihuahua.” Laforêt claimed that she made the stipulation because she believed the Muslim faith views dogs as unclean animals.

The case was taken up by an anti-discrimination group called the Movement against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP), which lodged a criminal complaint against Laforêt. Her lawyer said Laforêt “knew that the presence of a dog could conflict with the religious convictions of orthodox Muslims. It was a sign of respect.” But Muslims rejected her defense.

In The Netherlands, Geert Wilders — the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party who had denounced the threat to Western values posed by unassimilated Muslim immigrants — was recently acquitted of five charges of inciting religious hatred against Muslims for comments he made that were critical of Islam. The landmark verdict brought to a close a highly-public, two-year legal odyssey.

Also in The Netherlands, Gregorius Nekschot, the pseudonym of a Dutch cartoonist who is a vocal critic of Islamic female circumcision and often mocks Dutch multiculturalism, was arrested at his home in Amsterdam in May 2008 for drawing cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims. Nekschot (which literally means “shot in the neck,” a method the cartoonist says was used by “fascists and communists to get rid of their opponents”) was released after 30 hours of interrogation by Dutch law enforcement officials.

Nekschot was charged for eight cartoons that “attribute negative qualities to certain groups of people,” and, as such, are insulting and constitute the crimes of discrimination and hate according to articles 137c and 137d of the Dutch Penal Code.

In an interview with the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, Nekschot said it was the first time in 800 years in the history of satire in the Netherlands that an artist was put in jail. (That interview has since been removed from the newspaper’s website.) Although the case against Nekschot was dismissed in September 2010, he ended his career as a cartoonist on December 31, 2011.

In Italy, the late Oriana Fallaci, a journalist and author, was taken to court for writing that Islam “brings hate instead of love and slavery instead of freedom.” In November 2002, a judge in Switzerland, acting on a lawsuit brought by Islamic Center of Geneva, issued an arrest warrant for Fallaci for violations of Article 261 of the Swiss criminal code; the judge asked the Italian government either to prosecute or extradite her. The Italian Justice Ministry rejected this request on the grounds that the Italian Constitution protects freedom of speech.

But in May 2005, the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), a group that is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, filed a lawsuit against Fallaci, charging that “some of the things she said in her book The Force of Reason are offensive to Islam.” An Italian judge ordered Fallaci to stand trial in Bergamo on charges of “defaming Islam.” Fallaci died of cancer in September 2006, just months after the start of her trial.

Back in Denmark, Hedegaard was circumspect about his acquittal. In a statement he said: “I am pleased that the Supreme Court has handed down a judgment in accordance with the evidence that was presented in the District Court and High Court.”

But, Hedegaard also acknowledged: “This judgment cannot be interpreted as a victory for freedom of speech. Article 266b, under which I was charged, remains unchanged. It remains a disgrace to any civilized society and is an open invitation to frivolous trials. Thus, we still have no right to refer to truth if we are indicted under this article. There have been several attempts to bring Article 266b into accordance with general principles of law, but successive governments and the parliamentary majority has stubbornly refused.”

Hedegaard concluded: “I am delighted that my acquittal sets a limit to how deeply the state can interfere in private life. The Supreme Court has clearly upheld the principle that for a statement to be criminal, it must have been made with the intent of public dissemination. We may still talk freely in our own homes.”

But then he added a qualification: “My personal reaction to more than two years of fatiguing litigation is that from now on I will be demanding written guarantees from people who want to talk to me. With their signatures they must confirm that nothing that I say will be passed on to the public without my express approval and without me having had a chance to vet it… I would advise everybody to do the same for we all know that the prosecutor lies in wait.”

Originally published by Gatestone Institute http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org

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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