On February 15, 2011, the Austrian Counterjihad activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was convicted of “hate speech” in a Vienna courtroom for what she said in a private seminar about Muhammad and Islam.
The original charge was “incitement to hatred”. 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.” Elisabeth was acquitted of the first charge, but convicted of the second. She was sentenced to pay a fine of €480. Her case is currently being appealed to Austria’s highest court. If the verdict is upheld, and she refuses to pay the fine, she will spend two months in jail.
How could this happen in a modern European democratic state which recognizes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 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 Libya, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran. She was in Tehran with her parents during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. As a student, she was working during her summer break in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein invaded the country. 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 October 2007 Elisabeth attended the Counterjihad Brussels conference and delivered the country report on the state of Islamization in Austria. In early 2008 she began a series of seminars on Islam in Vienna, explaining to interested parties what the Qur’an and the hadith actually teach, along with the basic tenets of Islamic law.
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 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 Austrian law. From an Austrian progressive’s point of view, her offense was compounded by the fact that it was held under the auspices of the FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, or the Austrian Freedom Party). Despite its popularity with Austrian voters, the FPÖ is reviled as a “xenophobic” party by the media and political class.
A few days after the complaint was filed, Elisabeth was interviewed by the prominent Austrian magazine profil (the Austrian equivalent of Time or Der Spiegel). Some quotes from the interview:
- “We are people defending the principles of freedom and equality in a secular society. I criticize political Islam and its political manifestations. No democratic country can take this right away from anyone.”
- “I want to preserve Europe and its democratic and secular values.”
- “Islamic doctrine discriminates against women and non-Muslims. Islamic law, or shariah, cannot be reconciled with democratic principles and universal human rights.”
- “There are powerful groups who are working towards the Islamization of Europe. That is a fact. What can we gain from closing our eyes and ignoring this? Even Libyan leader Muammar Ghadafi says: ‘There are signs that Allah will grant victory to Islam in Europe without swords, without guns, without conquest.’“
- “Muslims have to liberate themselves; from this static and tenacious Islam that is hell-bent on following norms from the seventh century. The result is that wherever there are Islamic societies there is no progress, but steps backwards, especially in the realm of human rights and democracy.”
- Concerning “Islamophobia”: “A phobia is an irrational fear. My worries are not irrational, but justified. One of these days our politicians will have to recognize this fact. People like me are not right-wing xenophobes.”
The issue that caused the most uproar in the Austrian press — and which figured prominently in the charge on which Elisabeth was eventually convicted — concerned the prophet Muhammad’s “thing for little girls:
|Q:||You are accused of making the following statements, among others: “Muslims rape children because of their religion”, or “Muhammad enjoyed contact with children.” Why the polemics?|
|A:||This is a clever strategy. You and all the others who are now crying wolf are locked in a choice of words. As a result you are able to maneuver yourselves away from the main point. It is a fact that Muhammad married a six-year-old at the age of 56. To this day men in Islamic countries view this as legitimizing marriage to a minor, thereby causing rape and life-long trauma. This is the problem we need to address, and not how circumscribe this bitter reality.|
The complainant in the case against Elisabeth was not the state, but NEWS magazine itself, 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 February 2010 she gave 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.
As she wrote at the time:
I just had a long talk with my legal representation. This is a huge judicial scandal. My lawyer has tried to get the documents detailing my case and the charges. In vain. The public prosecutor cited “computer problems”, the clerks said there is a note in my case that nothing is to be made public (wonder why the media knew about it then), and he was shoved from clerk to clerk, getting nothing. So far we know that I will be tried, but nothing else.
I have nothing whatsoever in my hands. I cannot defend myself at the moment because neither my lawyer nor I know the precise charges.
It makes me wonder about our judicial system. It is outrageous that the media in both Germany and Austria knew about this before the accused.
A few days later she received official notice from the court: her trial date would be November 23, 2010.
On the first day of the trial, the prosecutor summarized the case against Elisabeth by taking short quotes from eight hours of her presentation, making them sound ominous. In particular, he focused on her statement that Muhammad had married a child of six, and her speculation that the current situation in Europe may lead to a civil war.
Her defense lawyer responded by pointing out that principles of gender equality and freedom of religion do not exist in Islam. He told the court his client had grown up in Islamic countries and experienced the situation of women there directly.
The defense also insisted that since the statements referenced by the prosecution were taken entirely out of context, and some were not even public, and thus not relevant to the case. Thus the eight hours of recordings should be played in court so that the full context would be clear.
The judge then asked if the defense was describing Islamic extremism, or Islam as such. Elisabeth explained she was talking about Islam as such, as defined by its scripture. She quoted Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said that there is no such thing as “moderate Islam”.
The judge agreed to allow the defense to play the tapes.
The issue of pedophilia was discussed, in light of Muhammad’s status as the perfect example for Muslims, as stated in Qur’an 33:21. Everything Muhammad ever did or said (which was recorded in the hadith) is to be followed by Muslims as a model of behavior. Elisabeth explained what the hadith collections are, and that they constitute an indispensable part of Islam, due to 33:21 and similar suras. She emphasized that she had made up none of what she said, but simply quoted canonical Islamic scripture.
The judge opened a discussion by asking if they were speaking of “all Muslims”. Elisabeth replied in the negative, since most Muslims do not know what is written in the Qur’an, which is in a language (Arabic) they cannot understand. They must rely on the imams for interpretations.
Later on, as a part of the response by the defense, Elisabeth’s lawyer asked her to explain various statements:
|Lawyer:||What is meant by “We are decadent”?|
|Elisabeth:||That is the point of view of Islamic fundamentalists.|
|Lawyer:||What is meant by “We do not want Shariah here, full stop”?|
|Elisabeth:||Free, secular societies is what we want.|
|Lawyer:||What is meant by “Islamic law is not compatible with free societies, we need to understand this.”?|
|Elisabeth:||Islam is a whole, and this whole is not compatible with free societies like the Austrian.|
|Lawyer:||Did you see any veiled Muslim men?|
|Elisabeth||(laughing): No, this is an obligation only for women.|
|Lawyer:||You were referring to Paris, Brussels, Rotterdam. What is the meaning of that?|
|Elisabeth:||This is a reference to the no-go zones, where Shariah is effectively the law. There immigrant youths torch cars, throw stones at the police, etc.|
|Prosecutor:||Are each and every one of these persons Muslims?|
|Elisabeth:||The majority are.|
|Lawyer:||What is meant when you say: “How many times have we been told that Islam is a Religion of Peace?” Is this an incitement to hate or violence?|
|Elisabeth:||I do not mean to incite hatred or violence. We need to be informed, make people aware, inform our politicians and write letters to the newspapers.|
|Lawyer:||What is meant by “We do not want gender apartheid, polygamy”?|
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 ones’ 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.
Just before Christmas, an article about Elisabeth appeared in Wienerin, a glossy Austrian magazine similar to Vanity Fair. Some translated excerpts:
She is said to have incited hate against Muslims, and is before the court on a charge of incitement. But even a conviction will not silence Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff. S. M. Steinitz accompanied the new figurehead of the Islam critics to Copenhagen. And witnessed how Sabaditsch-Wolff made her trial a manifesto — and gained in political influence.
The prosecutor apparently did not consider it necessary to prepare for the trial. No, he said, he had no questions for the defendant. The tape recording of her comments, the basis for the charge against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, 39, he had only heard “in excerpts.” On this tape, covertly recorded by a reporter in the fall of 2009, can be heard how Sabaditsch-Wolff — during her seminar “The Fundamentals of Islam” — says to a participant, among other things, “Cardinals rape in spite of their religion. Muslims rape because of their religion.” Sponsor of the seminar: the Freedom Education Institute. A charge was laid after a report appeared in the weekly magazine, NEWS.
A year later in Room 31of the Vienna Regional Court: the prosecutor seems confident of success, almost bored. Even the onlookers do not doubt that a verdict will be reached quickly: Sabaditsch-Wolff — guilty of incitement and denigration of religious doctrines. Like Susanne Winter, the FPÖ representative who was convicted two years ago because of her comments about the founder of Islam. (“In today’s system, this Muhammad is a child molester.”)
But it was different this time.
The charge of incitement is the high point of her career as a provocateur thus far. Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff devotes up to ten hours a day to her campaign, prepares speeches and seminars, confers by e-mail and skype with allies all over the world. A look at her life history could offer an answer to the Why: As the daughter of an Austrian diplomat, she experienced, at age six, the takeover of the ayatollahs in Iran. “These shouting figures in their black robes, the palpable fear of the religious police in the streets — all that unsettled me greatly.” Years later, she was working in the Austrian embassy in Kuwait when Iraqi troops marched in. The embassy employees became hostages of Saddam, and were allowed to leave the country only after weeks of diplomatic negotiations. Sabaditsch-Wolff treated the trauma of her captivity in the book “I Was Saddam’s Hostage.”
Later she returned to Kuwait, then worked in Libya after that. “Life in Islamic countries is terrible,” she maintains. “… And the Muslims are the first victims of this ideology. They should be freed from their religion.” Does she really believe that Islamization is threatening Europe? “It is already fully underway. And if we do nothing, Europe will go under.”
Copenhagen, a few days later. Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, invited by the Free Press Society to a conference in the Danish parliament on the topic “Freedom of Expression,” was introduced as a “martyr for freedom of speech.” The guest list reads like the Who’s Who of European rightist parties: Jimmie Åkesson, head of the Sweden Democrats, who this year managed to enter the Swedish parliament with a controversial ad (burka-wearing women with baby carriages scaring an old woman off of welfare support). Peter Skaarup, foreign policy spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, is also there. Then too, René Stadtkewitz, founder of the German party Die Freiheit, modeled on the example of Geert Wilders’ Netherlands party of the same name [in Dutch]. He also intended to come, but had to cancel, at the last minute. “He is watching my trial with great interest,” says Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, who had met Wilders in Berlin in October. “He himself is accused of incitement. It’s crazy how many of us they want to get.”
She is greeted as a friend by the politicians. The paying public too, which has come to see Sabaditsch-Wolff live, is happy. “I know you from the internet. You are Elisabeth from Austria,” says an elderly lady. “You are a heroine!” shouts another. “Elisabeth from Austria” is a web celebrity. On more than forty connected websites she is celebrated as a “free speech advocate,” as a “fighter for freedom of speech.” On the website set up especially for her — savefreespeech.org — donations are requested, for her trial, which she will pursue “if it is necessary, all the way to The European Court of Human Rights.”
The career of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff continues. Next, she and [Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Austrian Freedom Party] are invited to a series of speeches in Canada. And the spear tip of the USA rightist conservatives, Sarah Palin, has already become interested in the troop. “I appreciate your work,” she sends a message, “and I look forward to meeting you soon.” “Global politics are being pursued,” Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff declares. Astounded follow-up: “And I am right in the middle of it.”
This is not the “housewife with an unusual hobby”, as she has been represented until now. More like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Confronted with this picture, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff laughs. “The wolf has had a bad image for a long time. Even so, it is a very useful animal: in its territory, the wolf maintains the balance of the species.”
When the trial reconvened in January, the tapes of the seminars were played back. In the process the defense was able to discuss 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. She quoted the hadith — what Muhammad did and said — as the ideal for pious Muslims and the foundation for Islamic law.
Her summary: “There is no Islam without Shariah; the two cannot be separated. Shariah-based societies have been known for many centuries, and still exist today. The aim is to establish a social order identical to that decreed by Muhammad, which he exemplified. Islamic radicals today retain the same goal: to implement shariah as widely as possible, ideally throughout the world.”
She quoted the Qur’an to support her assertions.
Next she discussed taqiyya — the Islamically-mandated obligation of sacred lying in furtherance of the cause of Islam. The Qur’an, Bukhari’s authoritative hadith, and Muslim scriptural references all support the concept, which is fully described in Islamic law. She said that the idea of religiously-sanctioned lying is difficult for our politicians to handle.
Concerning the charges, the judge discussed Elisabeth’s statement that the conduct of Muhammad is exemplary for Muslims, including the problems raised by the scriptural reference to Muhammad’s marriage to a six-year-old girl. What exactly that would be called today, if not pedophilia?
Later in the day the judge, at her own discretion, announced the addition of the second charge: “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion.” Elisabeth’s lawyer was not prepared for this, and asked for the trial to be adjourned. The judge scheduled the next session for February 15th.
When court reconvened in February, events moved swiftly to a close.
|Judge:||The integration of Muslims is surely a question of particular public interest — you are allowed to be critical — but not incitement of hatred|
|[judge states the permitted utterances]|
|The language used in he seminars were not inciting hatred, but the utterances regarding Muhammad and pedophilia were punishable.|
|“Pedophilia” is factually incorrect, since pedophilia is a sexual preference which solely or mainly is directed towards children. This does not apply to Mohammad. He was still married to Aisha when she was 18.|
- On the count of “incitement to hatred”: Not guilty.
- On the count of “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion”: Guilty.
The defendant was sentenced to pay a €480 fine.
|Judge:||Did you understand the sentence?|
|[discontent in court]|
The judge second-guessed the Qur’an, noting that Aisha was 18 years old when Muhammad died, which is factual, based on the hadith. The fact that he did not divorce her after she reached her majority proved that Muhammad had no exclusive desire for underage girls; he was also attracted to somewhat older females. Therefore he was not a pedophile.
By implication, of course, the child marriages that are so prevalent in fundamentalist Islamic countries cannot be legally categorized as “pedophilia” either.
Elisabeth said: “This is a sad day for my daughter and all girls.”
By the time the verdict was handed down, it had become obvious that the court was absolutely determined that Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff must be found guilty of something. The playing of the tapes — which showed that many of the recorded statements that had been used against Elisabeth had in fact been uttered privately — made the prosecution realize that the original charge would never hold up. To attain the desired outcome, the judge added a second charge of her own devising. A juridical move of this sort would have been unimaginable (and illegal) in the United States and many other countries, but it is quite legal in Austria.
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.
But the folks who run the Austrian system of “justice” are not normal people. They concocted the absurd rationalization that remaining married to the little girl past the age of 18 meant that Muhammad did not exclusively target children with his sexual attentions; hence he was not a “pedophile” by the strict psychiatric definition. Thus Elisabeth was wrong, even though she did not say it, and even though no ordinary citizen would disagree with her if she had said it.
Interestingly enough, this farrago of justice was made possible by the recognition of Islam as a state religion in 1912 through the law Islamgesetz, which had as its primary purpose the full integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina into the Austrian Empire. When Austria lost Bosnia in 1918, the law became irrelevant, but it has remained on the books until this day.
What might the long-term consequences of the verdict? As Henrik Ræder Clausen wrote at the time:
Fortunately law is logical, and thus one can rightfully deduce some consequences from the verdict:
1. It can constitute a criminal offence to use a label wrongly, even if that usage is in line with how it is applied by the general public. 2. The judge takes it as proven that Muhammad had a lasting sexual relationship with a minor. Strangely, she considers it an illegal denigration to apply the label ‘paedophilia’ to this behaviour. 3. As the law is only concerned with “Religious teachings”, rather than “Founders of religion”, “Behaviour of religious persons” or similar things, this verdict must imply that the life and conduct of Muhammad — including his sexual conduct — constitute an integral part of the “Religious teachings” in Islam. This interpretation is in line with Qur’an 33:21 and fundamentalist readings of Islam. 4. Under Austrian law, Islam has a remarkable degree of protection from criticism, and this verdict extents this protection to Muhammad, who is now protected from criticism. Other religions, say Buddhism, do not enjoy a similar protection of their teachings or founders.
That the example of Muhammad is used to justify child marriages even today is a fact that seems to have escaped the attention of the judge. Reports about child brides and their aged husbands now routinely appear in the Western press, but even though we hear these stories over and over, few seem willing to stand up for the rights of these minor girls. Even the sheikhs, the persons learned in Islamic law, do not take action or in any way use their authority to stop child marriages.
That the life and example of Muhammad in its entirety should constitute “Religious teachings”, protected from criticism under Austrian law, is a notion so absurd that it cannot be permitted to stand.
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.
Was this what the judge intended when she handed down the verdict in Elisabeth’s case?
As soon as Elisabeth was reported to the authorities by NEWS magazine in the fall of 2009 she began speaking out in public about her case. In the two years since then she has spoken at public events in Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Gothenburg, and Luton, England. She began a series of appearance in North America with a speech at the Freedom Defense Initiative in Washington D.C. in February 2010. During that same visit she appeared on Capitol Hill to brief a group of interested people on the suppression of free speech in Austria.
Elisabeth followed up over the next year and a half with several appearances in the USA and Canada as a speaker at events for ACT! for America, for which she is Austrian chapter head. She also spoke about freedom of speech in Florida and Montréal, and appeared on Ezra Levant’s television program in Canada.
Well-known public figures who have publicly supported Elisabeth include Congressman Allen West, writer Mark Steyn, European politicians Geert Wilders, Kent Ekeroth, Heinz-Christian Strache, René Stadtkewitz, and Oskar Freysinger. She has found additional support from Pat Condell in his widely-viewed videos, and from Danish historian Lars Hedegaard of the International Free Press Society.
In the next few weeks Elisabeth will face a crucial decision: Should she pay the €480 fine? Or should she spend two months in jail?
Paying the fine would be an implicit acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the verdict against her, and an admission that Austria has the right to charge and convict her for exercising her right to free speech as guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This is a dilemma that no one should ever be forced to confront. But such is the current parlous state of free speech in Europe.
|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||Court reconvened. No verdict; the trial was adjourned until February 15th.|
|Feb. 15, 2011||Verdict:|
|On the original charge of “incitement to hatred”: Not guilty|
|On the second the new charge of “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion”: Guilty|
|Current status||The case is on appeal. The next court date is Dec. 20, 2011, when the verdict on the appeal will be handed down.|
Below are some of the articles containing more detailed information about the events described in this series:
- Fighting a Hate Speech Charge in Austria
- An Austrian “Hate School”
- “Justice Must Not Be Made the Handmaiden of Shariah”
- The Trial of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, Day 1
- The Time That is Given Us
- An Unusual Hobby
- The Trial of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, Day 2
- The Trial of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, Day 3
- Convicted for Calling Muhammad a “Paedophile”
Other resources on her case may be found at Elisabeth’s Save Free Speech website, and a full listing of articles at the Elisabeth’s Voice Archives.
For more information on Elisabeth’s work at the OSCE, see this report from November 2011.
Many thanks to Aeneas of the International Civil Liberties Alliance and Henrik Ræder Clausen of Europe News for the photos used in this series.