The Malta Humanist Association has congratulated Justice Minister Owen Bonnici following his proposals to amend the Criminal Code to strike off sanctions against blasphemy which date back to 1933.

"Malta's laws, while not carrying such inhumane penalties, have been used in the recent past to charge people for publishing articles, to prevent plays from being staged and to prosecute revellers in carnival costumes among other cases. In 2012 alone, 99 people were convicted under these blasphemy laws, while in the first half of 2011, 119 people were convicted," the association said.

"There is no reason to hold religion to a different standard than any other ideology. People may feel as strongly about a political ideology as someone else feels about their faith, yet we do not criminalise anyone who vilifies capitalism, or someone who insults Marxism. Religious beliefs have a strong influence on people - sometimes even those who do not espouse that belief - so these beliefs must be open to criticism the same as any other school of thought. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience are fundamental human rights that we all benefit from and must protect," the association said.

In a similar vein, it added, the removal of the “obscenity laws” that prohibit articles that “unduly emphasise sex, crime, horror, cruelty and violence” was also welcome.

"We need to move away from a nanny state in which the government chooses what we may watch, hear or read, towards a more mature society in which adults can make informed choices," it said.