The Malta Independent 30 September 2016, Friday

Government proposes modern laws on religion and revenge porn; Lines are becoming blurred - PN

Helena Grech Tuesday, 2 February 2016, 17:57 Last update: about 9 months ago

The government is determined to do away with outdated laws criminalising the vilification of religion and will introduce new legislation that is more reflective of today’s society, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici told parliament tonight.

In line with its mission to get rid of outdated laws that ranged from regulating carrier pigeons and punishment for piracy, Dr Bonnici said that the government is proposing to completely repeal two articles in the Criminal Code which make it illegal to vilify religion “ by words, gestures, written matter, whether printed or not, or pictures or by some other visible means”. Article 163 deals specifically with the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion while article 164 refers to other religions.

Another of the amendments proposed will criminalize revenge porn. The Minister explained that Malta will be one of the first European states to introduce this law. The amendments also call for the removal of a law that punishes the vilification of the Roman Catholic religion that has been in place since 1933.

The reform will feature changes in Article 208 of the law, on which the case against Alex Vella Gera was based.

This Article in the law has been in place since the 1970s. Minister Bonnici said that the law was too wide and opens to a vast array of definitions.

 A clear definition between porn and extreme porn

 The government aims to make a clear definition to distinguish between pornography and extreme pornography.

Also, children or those under 18 years of age will not be allowed to enter public places where pornography will be displayed. The Minister explained that according to the law, places which will show pornography should carry a clear sign saying that under age people are not allowed inside.

Establishments which sell sex related items must carry the same sign.

The law will make live performances related to sex illegal. Dr Bonnici explained that each of these sections in the law will encounter exceptions related to artistic performance.  

The bill will introduce the criminalisation of revenge porn. “Malta will be one of the first countries in the European Union to introduce such a law,” Bonnici said.

The crime will be carrying a jail sentence of two years, and a fine of between €3,000 and€5,000.

The amendment in the law was set on the electoral promise to update the censorship law, Dr Bonnici said. 

Mixing up religion and pornography - Azzopardi

Shadow Minister for Justice Jason Azzopardi criticised the government for “mixing up religion and pornography” when presenting its draft bill on the vilification of religion, censorship and freedom of expression.

He added that this was a “Machiavellian” tactic of the current administration.

Part of the bill deals with strengthening artistic expression, allowing artists to portray religious figures, so long as it does not incite hatred and is intended to insult.

People vilifying religion with the intention of inciting hatred, would be charged with committing a hate crime, however artists portraying religious figures would be free from criminal conviction.

Dr Azzopardi brought numerous magazine covers by the famous Charlie Hebdo publication to Parliament to illustrate his point, saying that such depictions of Christian, Muslim and any religious figures should be a crime.

 He went so far to say that atheists should also be protected from materials published which intend to offend their beliefs.

He stressed the fact that the National Party agrees with the introduction of revenge porn as a criminal offence.

Dr Azzopardi went on to say that it is completely hypocritical for the Prime Minister to call a person a “soldier of steel” and that he receives a standing ovation at a Labour party event, but before that is convicted of distributing revenge porn and handed down a suspended sentence. He did not mention the person by name, but was obviously referring to Cyrus Engerer.

He gave special mention to the part of the law which gives artists more freedom to express themselves, and said that in the light of the recent Paris attacks, maintaining and securing “public order” is imperative.

He said in the name of public order, allowing offensive materials to be published could be counterproductive.

He also said that numerous other bills, such as the draft bill which amends the rights of the child have been pending for too long – such as in this case where it has been pending for 20 months.

Dr Azzopardi said that this shows the government’s priorities.

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