Application Number 42571/98

European Court of Human Rights

The applicant, owner of a publishing house which published “The Forbidden Phrases” was charged with blasphemy. The ECtHR found no violation of Article 10, since the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed could be abusive to some believers.


Theme(s): Religious Hatred/Blasphemy

Date: 13 December 2006

Description of applicant(s):  Owner of Publishing House

Brief description of facts: The applicant lives in France. He is the owner and director of a publishing house which in November 1993 published a novel by Abdullah Rıza Ergüven entitled “Yasak Tümceler” (“The forbidden phrases”). The book conveyed the author’s views on philosophical and theological issues in a novelistic style. Two thousand copies of it were printed. In an indictment of 18 April 1994, the Istanbul public prosecutor charged the applicant under the third and fourth paragraphs of Article 175 of the Criminal Code with blasphemy against “God, the Religion, the Prophet and the Holy Book” through the publication of the book in question.  The public prosecutor’s indictment was based on an expert report drawn up at the request of the press section of the Istanbul public prosecutor’s office. The applicant received a fine.

(Alleged) target(s) of speech: Muslims

The Court’s assessment of impugned speech: The Court found that the speech went beyond offensive to an abusive attack on the Prophet Mohammed and that believers in Turkey may feel attacked by the book. As such, it found no violation of Article 10.

Important paragraph(s) from the judgement:

Para. 9. However, the present case concerns not only comments that offend or shock, or a “provocative” opinion, but also an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam. Notwithstanding the fact that there is a certain tolerance of criticism of religious doctrine within Turkish society, which is deeply attached to the principle of secularity, believers may legitimately feel themselves to be the object of unwarranted and offensive attacks through the following passages: “Some of these words were, moreover, inspired in a surge of exultation, in Aisha’s arms. … God’s messenger broke his fast through sexual intercourse, after dinner and before prayer. Muhammad did not forbid sexual intercourse with a dead person or a live animal.”

Para. 30. The Court therefore considers that the measure taken in respect of the statements in issue was intended to provide protection against offensive attacks on matters regarded as sacred by Muslims. In that respect it finds that the measure may reasonably be held to have met a “pressing social need”.

 ECHR Article: Article 10

 Decision: No Violation  

 Use of ‘hate speech’ by the Court in its assessment? No