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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

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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.”

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About the Author: The writer is the Senior Analyst for Transatlantic Relations 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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