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Updated | Camilleri and Vella Gera win Realtà case appeal

Court of Appeal confirms acquittal of Mark Camilleri and Alex Vella Gera on obscenity charges.

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan
8 February 2012, 12:00am
Mark Camilleri (left) and Alex Vella Gera had their acquittal confirmed by the appeals court.
Mark Camilleri (left) and Alex Vella Gera had their acquittal confirmed by the appeals court.
Updated at 1:45pm with comments of Mark Camilleri and Alex Vella Gera.

Mark Camilleri, the editor of student pamphlet Realtà, and writer Alex Vella Gera have had their acquittal from obscenity charges confirmed by the Appeals Court, after the Attorney General first appealed the original verdict in March 2011.

Judge David Scicluna confirmed the first sentence issued by Magistrate Audrey Demicoli in its entirety.  

Vella Gera and Camilleri were acquitted on 14 March by Magistrate Audrey Demicoli, who noted in her judgment that the law did not provide clear definitions of 'pornography' and 'obscenity', and that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Article 208 of the Criminal Code had been breached.

Camilleri's lawyer Alex Sciberras told MaltaToday that today's ruling was "an important victory for artistic freedom and for literature" because the sentence "gives a better definition of the law on pornography".

He also explained that the ruling is definite and the case has come to a close. Sciberras added that although Judge David Scicluna admitted that Vella Gera's story was "shocking", the ruling clearly says that the story did not violate the pornography and obscenity law and did not go against public morality. Philip Manduca appeared as defence lawyer for Vella Gera.

Camilleri and Vella Gera thanked their lawyers for their solidarity in taking up their case. "We are satisfied with the verdict because it has freed the local literary scene from the threat of prosecution and the danger of self-censorship. Maltese writers are now freer than ever one's self."

Camilleri and Vella Gera however said the obscenity laws should be changed because it criminalise art and literature that could be considered pornographic.

"No Minister, Magistrate, Attorney General or police officer has the right to give an absolute definition of art and distinguish it from other material. We hope our verdict has strengthened the case in favour of a reform in censorship laws."

The two men also thanked their supporters and Alternattiva Demokratika, Labour MP Owen Bonnici, the Front Against Censorship and all the writers who testified in their defence.

Camilleri and the Vella Gera were accused of distributing obscene or pornographic material, and of undermining public morals or decency - under both the Criminal Code and the Press Act - in the short story Li Tkisser Sewwi published in the university pamphlet Realtà.

The story in question was a first-person monologue narrated by a sex-driven man who objectified women and treated them in a sordid fashion. It also exposed his dilemma when being confronted with having feelings for one particular woman, and his inability to handle them.

In the original ruling, Magistarte Audrey Demicoli observed that the defendants were exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression. The court had also concluded that public morality was something that changed over time. It added that what offended public morals 20 or 30 years ago did not necessarily do so today.

Furthermore, the court added, the publication was available only to University and Junior College students, which it said were mature students who already had free access to a variety of media including books, newspapers and the internet. In this light, the court decided that it had not been shown how Ir-Realtà could have offended their morality.

The appeal filed by the Attorney General against the verdict acquitting Vella Gera and Camilleri pushed the line that "God is certainly bigger than the biggest of egos of even more famous writers."

In its lengthy 32-page appeal. the Attorney General argued that Vella Gera admitted to having written his short story Li Tkisser Sewwi "on impulse" and "without any form of self-censorship".

"He was free to write what he wanted without self-censorship," Attorney General Peter Grech stated in the appeal. "But the author must realize there are others living with him, whose ideas, preferences and tastes are unlike his; a society that must be protected, and its morality preserved. And there's God above everything and above everyone, and God is certainly bigger than the biggest of egos of even more famous writers."

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...
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Stephen Camilleri
@ Raphael Vassallo. By definition, there is no such thing as "bad" literature. It is either literature, or it is not, and Vella Gera's contribution to Realta certainly was not literature. So please stop this pseudo-intellectual, liberal waffle about how Vella Gera could be Malta's James Joyce. Nobody is suggesting that he or anyone else should be stopped from publishing anything because it doesn't meet the "establishment's tacit approval"! What establishment are you talking about anyway? These were the kind of slogans that were bandied around in the sixties when women were still burning bras. Many people have grown up since then, but others are still getting a kick out of writing "naughty" stories and think it is really daring of them. Well, good for them if they find someone silly enough to publish their stuff. Just don't call it literature.
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jonathan vella
I fenech is making the usual mistake of assuming that "literature', by definition, has to be "good". Two problems with that: one, it is simply untrue. Literature remains literature, even when it is crap. Two, who gets to decide what constitutes 'good' or 'bad' literature? These are purely subjective criteria and cannot be constrained within the framework of objective legal definitions. They cannot even be defined on artistic grounds: Joyce's Ulysses was originally dismissed as 'obscene'on account fo Leopold Bloom's masturbation scene. And that's just one example out of thousands. Another problem with this line of reasoning is that any attempt to limit publishable literature according to pre-determined criteria can (and inevitably will) be abused/exploited for reasons which have nothing to do with literature and art. Laws puporting to ban obscenity in literature may in future be invoked to silence individual writers because (amomng other reasons) they do not meet with the establishment's tacit approval, etc. etc. There may even be political reasons to ban certain authors on grounds of indecency.
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Raymond Mintoff
Justice has been served , egg in the face of the Attorney General and the PM.
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Stephen Camilleri
According to Alex Sciberras' lawyer the ruling is "an important victory for artistic freedom and for literature" No it isn't. The ruling said it was not porn, but that doesn't make it literature, for heaven's sake. Anyone who bothered reading that crap piece by this Vella Gera knows it could have well been written by a 13-year-old with a strong libido problem. Good for Vella Gera and Camilleri that they were were acquitted. But keeps things in proportion please.
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anton sciberras
I wonder how much this witch-hunt has cost the victims and the taxpayer.