Monday, April 7, 2008

Degradation of religious doctrines in Austria

Susanne Winter, a politician and member of the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria, has been indicted on charges of incitement to racial hatred and "degradation of religious doctrines" for some comments she made about Islam and the prophet Muhammad, says this story. This is the first I've heard about such a law about religious doctrines, but at any rate, Ms. Winter has been charged under it. Apparently she called Muhammad a "child molester" and made other similarly disparaging remarks about the Koran. In Austria, incitement to racial hatred can bring a sentence of up to two years in prison (I note with interest that two years is the exact same upper limit that we in Canada have on our Criminal Code s. 319).

According to this brochure on anti-racism in that country, Austria's hate speech laws are geared towards suppressing Nazi speech specifically - which is not surprising. There are provisions in their Code allowing for easier prosecution of Nazi expression than any other kind. Vienna is a signatory to international treaties which oblige it to ban the NSDAP and combat any manifestations of its ideology. There are other statutes covering incitement to violence against a church, or against a particular religion. Section 188, which seems to be one of the sections under which Winter is charged, is the one that covers doctrines.

She is also in trouble for warning of a "tsunami of Muslim immigration" about to sweep over Europe if current immigration trends continue. Her party, the FPO, is stridently anti-immigration, and has even put up propaganda posters saying that "Vienna must not become Istanbul." Two things are interesting about this, from the Canadian point of view. The first is that we would never have a viable political party whose main cause is stopping immigration. The second is that, even under our rather loose hate speech laws, no one would get into legal trouble for having said what she did. Our Code section about incitement is rarely used. Those laws seem to get a lot more exercise over in Europe.