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Austria court clears politician over mosque game

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An Austrian court cleared a far-right politician of incitement on Friday, ruling that an online anti-mosque game used in his election campaign did not encourage violence against Muslims in real life.

Freedom Party deputy Gerhard Kurzmann used the game in his failed bid to become governor of the southeastern province of Styria in 2010.

Prosecutors accused him of inciting religious hatred and defaming a religion with the game.

The “Bye Bye Mosque” game let players shoot cartoon mosques and Muslims emerging from an idyllic country scene.

Judicial authorities forced the Freedom Party to take down the website after the game sparked sharp criticism from Austria’s Social Democrats and Greens, as well as the Islamic and Roman Catholic communities.

“It did not reach the threshold of incitement and I would also say this was not the intention,” Judge Christoph Lichtenberg told the Graz court in remarks carried by the national APA news agency.

The prosecutor’s office plans to appeal.

The game was developed by the same Swiss public relations firm that created anti-Muslim and anti-immigration campaigns for the rightist Swiss People’s Party. Its creator, Alexander Segert, was also cleared by the court.

The Freedom Party, which campaigns on an anti-immigrant platform, said it wanted to start a debate about mosque-building but not encourage people to use violence against Muslims.

“The judge has unmistakably determined that the question of whether mosque-building should be banned is being discussed all over Europe and that it is a completely legitimate debate,” the Freedom Party said in a statement.

The Freedom Party is Austria’s biggest opposition party and has been gaining in polls before 2013 elections. At the national level it has been seeking to ban Islamic face veils and mosques with minarets.

Less than 2 percent of Styria’s population is Muslim, according to APA, and the province has no mosques with visible minarets.

There are around half a million Muslims in Austria, a predominantly Roman Catholic country of 8 million people ruled by a centrist coalition.