UPDATED - Adds PL reaction, court's considerations
The Labour Party this afternoon welcomed the acquittal of Mark Camilleri, editor of student newspaper Ir-Realta and writer Alex Vella Gera, who had been accused of publishing pornographic and obscene material.
The party said the court had effectively underlined the point that authors and writers should not be arraigned on criminal proceedings for publishing fiction, more so when the plot was one which shocked and criticised society through the strong realism that was used.
The party said it felt that the law against the distribution of porn and obscene material should be used for their purpose only, and not to threaten imprisonment for authors and writers.
It urged the government not to appeal the sentence and instead to modernise the laws on freedom of artistic expression, in agreement with the opposition.
Following the court judgement this morning, Mr Camilleri said an apology was the least that University Rector Juanito Camilleri could do after having reported the case, and added that it would be good if he stepped down.
Mr Vella Gera described the verdict as a step for freedom of expression in Malta and said artists would therefore not feel they should resort to self-censorship.
The case was decided by Magistrate Audrey Demicoli.
Mr Vella Gera had written the article entitled Li tkisser sewwi, a graphic piece of fiction about sexual violence.
The newspaper was distributed at the University before being banned and reported to the police by Prof Camilleri.
The editor and the writer were accused of distributing obscene or pornographic material and for undermining public morals or decency, under both the Criminal Code and the Press Act.
For the Criminal Code charge Mr Vella Gera faced a prison term of up to six months and/or a fine of up to €465.87 while the Press Act contemplates a maximum of three months in prison and/or a fine.
The 1,300-word story was a first-person narrative by a sex-craved Maltese man who spoke in very degrading and sexual terms about women, whom he treats like objects.
It received mixed reviews, with some saying it was insulting and offensive to women and others interpreting it as a story aimed at exposing this pathetic but prevalent mentality, as the author said he intended. Some also said the story was weak or unappealing but defended it in terms of free speech.
Mr Camilleri had said that if the issue went to court he would be prepared to go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights on the basis of violation of fundamental human rights.
The court said the prosecution had produced no evidence to define public morality in Malta and how it had been infringed. The court felt that public morality was something which changed over time, and what offended public morals 20 or 30 years ago did not necessarily do so now as realities changed, including the media.
Furthermore, the publication was limited to students of the University and the Junior College, who were mature students who had free access to a variety of media including books, newspapers and the internet.
It had not been shown how Ir-Realta offended their morality.
The writer had exercised his freedom of expression through a literary work and no crime had resulted, the court said.
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