Malta set to become 'pioneer' in criminalising revenge porn

Parliament to debate proposals to criminalise revenge porn, decriminalise pornography vilification of Roman Catholicism, safeguard artistic freedom

Malta looks set to become one of the first European countries to criminalise revenge porn – with a draft law proposing that it become punishable by a maximum two years’ imprisonment or a fine ranging between €3,000 and €5,000.

Justice minister Owen Bonnici told a press briefing that anybody caught sharing revenge porn pictures or videos by any means will be subjected to the penance, regardless of whether they had distributed it or continued the chain.

This proposal is part of a package of laws that Bonnici will present to Parliament tonight for debate.

Notably, the amendments call for the removal of a law that punishes the vilification of the Roman Catholic religion that has been in place since 1933.

Bonnici allayed fears that this will allow people to incite religious hatred – noting that the incitement of hatred based on religion, gender, race, sexuality, gender identity or political belief is already illegal as per a more recent law and will remain so.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna described the government’s plans to decriminalize vilification.

“I don’t see the difference between hate crime and vilification, other than the latter forbids people from making fun or making caricature of Roman Catholicism,” Bonnici retorted. “In a democratic country, people should be free to make fun of religions, while not inciting hatred.”  

Pornography to be decriminalised

Bonnici explained that the ultimate aim of the law is to guarantee the freedom of artistic expression – an issue that came to the fore when authors Alex Vella Gera and Mark Camilleri were hauled up to court on charges of obscenity for having written a sexually explicit story in a student newspaper.

“We disagree with the concept of a big brother-like government that tells people what they are allowed to see,” he said. “There should be a red line, not to stifle artistic expression but to protect vulnerable people. We don’t want the Camilleri and Vella Gera case to repeat itself. 

The distribution and consumption of pornography is currently illegal. To amend this dead letter law, Bonnici’s Bill proposes that pornography be legally distinguished from “extreme pornography”.

The latter will remain illegal, and include child porn, rape videos, disability porn, and necrophilia. Live sex shows will also be deemed to be “extreme porn” and hence illegal.

Sex shops will also be allowed to open and people will be allowed to display pornography in private locations – so long as they are accompanied with clear warnings forbidding children from entering. However, Bonnici insisted that the reform has in no way been proposed to encourage people to open sex shops, and that they will only be permitted as a legal consequence of the removal of laws that stifle artistic expression.