- The first problem of the European Court of Human Rights decision against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff is that it means that, at least in cases of blasphemy, truth is not a defence.
- Such a judgement hands over the decision on what is or is not allowed to be said not to a European or national court, but to whoever can claim, plausibly or otherwise, that another individual has risked “the peace.”
- There have been similar mobster tricks tried for some years now. They all run on the old claim, “I’m not mad with you myself; I’m just holding my friend back here.”
At the start of this decade, a minor story occurred that set the scene for the years that have followed. In 2010, a Saudi lawyer named Faisal Yamani wrote to the Danish newspapers that had published cartoons of Islam’s prophet, Mohammed. Claiming to act on behalf of 95,000 descendants of Mohammed, the Saudi lawyer said that the cartoons were defamatory and that legal proceedings would thereby begin.
However, everything about the supposed legal claim reeked. How had Mr Yamani located all these descendants? How had he come up with exactly 95,000 of them? And how could you claim that a statement about somebody who died 1,400 years ago was “defamatory”? Legally, one cannot “defame” the dead.
Everything about the claim was laughable Yet it had its desired effect. At least one Danish paper — Politiken — swiftly issued an apology for republishing the cartoons. So Mr Yamani got what he wanted. He had (one might suggest) conjured up a set of alleged victims and cobbled together an alleged offence, but no matter, because he also got a European newspaper to fold in no seconds flat. It was an interesting probe of the European system of justice — and a good example of submission. And a fine scene-setting precedent for the decade that has followed.
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