Parliament is this evening debating doing away with “outdated” laws criminalising the vilification of religion to be more reflective of today’s society, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said.
The government is proposing completely repealing two articles of the Criminal Code that 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 specifically speaks about the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion, while article 164 refers to other religions. Anyone found guilty faces up to six months behind bars.
Speaking in Parliament this evening, the minister said these had been surpassed by an EU inspired-law which, while continuing to disallow vilification, protected artistic expression.
“We believe in this law and hate crime will remain… Vilification of religion will remain a crime. What we shall be removing is a 1933 law… But there will be no carte blance for religion to be vilified.”
Dr Bonnici said that the government did not want someone to be taken to court for dressing up as a religious figure in carnival.
Giving a briefing to journalists ahead of this evening’s parliamentary debate, Dr Bonnici conceded, however, that this would offer the church less protection, but said this was more reflective of today’s society.
Revenge porn regulations
Parliament will also be debating a series of other reforms, among them new laws criminalising the sharing of “revenge porn”.
Revenge porn, the distribution of pornographic images or videos sent by a former partner, had hit the headlines last year after a series of images of nude Maltese girls started being shared on social media and instant messaging applications.
Dr Bonnici said Malta would be among the first countries in the EU to include the sharing of such content without consent to the list of criminal offences.
He said that if found guilty, those who shared such pornography, even if it was sent to them by another person or in a series of messages, would face two years in prison and a fine of up to €5,000.
Dr Bonnici said parliament would also debate a reform of Article 208 of the Criminal Code which allowed criminal steps to be taken against those who published something “pornographic” in nature.
Dr Bonnici said the definition of pornography was too broad and the reform sought to refine it.
“Our main objective here is to protect artistic expression and to avoid a repeat of cases in which art has been censored on the basis of it being pornographic. We do not believe in a big brother state which chooses what art is acceptable,” he said.
Dr Bonnici was referring to the criminal prosecution of Ir-Realta’ editor Mark Camilleri and author Alex Vella Gera for the publication of the short story Li Tkisser Sewwi.
He explained that “extreme pornography”, including child porn and non-consensual acts, would remain a criminal offence. However, it will no longer be illegal to watch mainstream pornography and to play this in private establishments as long as the public is warned and children are not present.
The Bill, the minister said in Parliament, did not give sex shops the green light as some had concluded it would do.
However, it would no longer be a criminal offence to display pornographic material in a commercial establishment.
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