Founded in 1949 and headquartered in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe – which today counts every European state except Belarus and Vatican City as a member – is supposed to be a guardian of democracy and human rights. That’s its official raison d’être. It is separate from the European Union, and its court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), whose judges are elected by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (a legislative body whose 324 members are drawn from Europe’s national parliaments), should not be confused with the EU’s European Court of Justice (ECJ). It began hearing cases and handing down verdicts in 1959.
How many Europeans are even aware of the Council of Europe’s existence – or, if they are, could explain what it does? How many know the difference between the ECHR and the ECJ? Relatively few, I suspect. But this is par for the course in Europe, where the elected governments, in the decades since World War II, have built up a network of international bodies that wield considerable power while operating in the shadows with little or no accountability to the people. Guardian of democracy, indeed.
All of this dry information is by way of prefacing news of a sensational and sobering verdict that was handed down by the ECHR last week. Although the full name of the petitioner is not mentioned – she is identified only as an Austrian woman with the initials “E.S.” – the case, as Robert Spencer has noted, is obviously that of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, who in 2011 was convicted in her native country of “disparaging religious doctrines” for having stated, in seminars entitled “Basic Information on Islam” that she held in October and November 2009, that Muhammed… was a pedophile. Of course, any minimally knowledgeable student of that religion knows that, according to the canonical records of Muhammed’s life that are known as hadith, he wed his wife Aisha when she was a child of six and… waited until she was nine to consummate the marriage… when Sabaditsch-Wolff put two and two together and called Muhammed a pedophile, an Austrian court found her guilty of insulting a legally recognized religion and fined her 480 euros ($548). Sabaditsch-Wolff appealed the court’s judgment, but the Vienna Court of Appeals upheld it and the Austrian Supreme Court dismissed it, whereupon she took her case to the ECHR. As she told Front Page editor Jamie Glazov in 2011, the appeal would “cost a lot of money and…take a lot [of] time (6-8 years minimum).”