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Update 2 | ‘Stitching’ producers to take case to European Court of Human Rights

Ban on controversial play written by Anthony Nielsen upheld by Appeals Court.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
29 November 2012, 12:00am
You will not see this play... a ban by the now-defunct censorship board on the staging of Stitching has been upheld by the Appeals Court.
You will not see this play... a ban by the now-defunct censorship board on the staging of Stitching has been upheld by the Appeals Court.
The producers of the play Stitching are going to file a case in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, appealing a court judgement which today upheld the first court's ban by the now-defunct Stage and Film Classification board.

In a statement issued by producers Unifaun, director Adrian Buckle said he was "very disappointed" but "not totally surprised".

"We believe that the judgement is severely flawed on several grounds. Worse yet it creates a dangerous precedent which creates a sword of Damocles over every artist's head."

Buckle said he was "shocked" at the level of incomprehension shown by the court in basing its judgement on a script but not the performance itself.

"Malta is the only country in the world which has allowed a play to be banned without ever having seen a performance. Even in the worst period of the Communist Eastern Bloc or Fascist Spain, the censors and the court realised that they could only pass judgement on a production, not a script, if they saw the need to ban it," Buckle said.

"We are equally shocked at the summary dismissal of all the testimony of our witnesses, people who actually saw the play, whilst accepting the totally false interpretation given by the defence."

In the statement, Unifaun's producers said the sentence was a gag on all artists, turning the courts into the only interpreter of what is art. "Worse still it has decided, without due reference to the norms of society, what should or should not constitute a threat to society without explaining what that threat would be."

Although the play can be effectively staged under a new self-regulation regime, the court case Unifaun lodged against the Stage and Film Classification Board overlapped the transition from the censorship board to the new self-regulation standard.

The civil court had declared that blasphemy and vulgar language should not be tolerated in public, not even in plays.

The controversial play, written by Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson, has been performed in several countries. But tts 2009 ban in Malta prompted an uproar over censorship, so much that the furore saw Tourism and Culture minister Mario de Marco moving a law for the self-regulation of theatre productions.

The resulting effect today is that the ban no longer holds, since the censorship board had been dismantled under the new self-regulation regime.

In the first judgement, Mr Justice Joseph Zammit McKeon had said the censorship board had acted correctly and pointed out that the values of a country could not be turned upside down simply in the name of freedom of expression.

He said it was unacceptable in a "democratic society founded on the rule of law" for any person, no matter what they did, to be allowed to swear in public - even in a theatre as part of a script. "According to our law, the very fact that a person swears in public, regardless of the reason, is a contravention... So if the court allows this in a democratic society, it would be discriminating (against those who are punished for swearing in public)."

The judge said that the extensive use of vulgar, obscene and blasphemous language that "exalted perversion, vilified the right to life... makes fun of the suffering of women in the Holocaust, and reduces women to a simple object of sexual satisfaction... cannot be used."

The two-actor play is about a couple struggling to deal with the loss of their child, so much so that they engage in perverse acts and thoughts to escape reality.

The court refused to watch the play, so it relied on the script to base its judgment. The producers had argued the play must be watched to be understood, adding its message was a positive one.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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john zerafa
I am utterly ashamed of holding a Maltese Passport!
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Peter Korsten
The problem with some people is that their only tenet is "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law".
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Jason Deguara
On BBC Prime and on many other TV stations warnings are often given that the programme contains swearing and other disturbing scenes, does this mean that anyone watching these programmes is guilty of a crime according to this ruling??????
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josephine borg
There are crucial details missing in this article. Was anyone associated with "Stitching" fined and/or imprisoned by Mr. Justice McKeon? At that time, if I remember correctly, the Censorship Board was empowered to apply the applicable law -- which prohibited that type of artistic expression. But now, that Board no longer exists, which raises the question: What is the purpose of appealing to the ECHR?
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That's interesting. Murder is against the law and isn't just a contravention it's a far more serious offense. Does that mean plays depicting murder are to be banned as well? I would hate to list the crimes Hamlet is guilty of just in case that's banned too.
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anton sciberras
It is hard to believe that this man is entrusted with the administration of justice as a magistrate. By this same reasoning, plays should not be allowed to depict a murder or any other crime because these are illegal. Moreover he makes the mistake of assuming that the censorship board's decisions reflect "the values of the country", which it clearly did not. Finally, he makes the third mistake in thinking that swearing is unacceptable in a play in a democratic society, which is utter hogwash. In a democratic society you can choose not to watch it.