‘Keep vilification in place but with exception for artists’ – Opposition MP

Claudette Buttigieg says that Opposition ready to support decriminalisation of vilification of religion, but only for artistic productions.

Opposition MP Claudette Buttigieg urged the government to maintain the vilification of religion as a crime, while introducing clear exceptions for artists.

 “In no way should plays such as ‘The Duchess of Melfi’ be considered as vilifying religion, but let’s not pass such a drastic law that eliminates all protection granted to religion,” she said during a parliamentary debate on a Bill to decriminalise vilification.

Buttigieg was endorsing a position declared earlier on in the debate by parliamentary secretary for competitiveness Jose Herrera, who had warned that striking off vilification as a crime risks increasing religious tension. 

She noted that the vilification of religion remains a crime in countries “far more liberal than Malta”, such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

“God forbid that Germany decriminalise vilification. Police guard synagogues everyday there, and this in a country that has done all it can to eliminate religious and racial hatred.

“Vilification means people burning the Bible or the Koran in a village square,” she said. “The Opposition will support the Bill if it states clearly that its intentions are solely to guarantee artistic freedom, but its current wording is not clear in this regard.”

Justice and culture minister Owen Bonnici – who penned this draft law - had as an Opposition MP strongly supported authors Alex Vella Gera and Mark Camilleri, when they were hauled up to court on charges of obscenity for having written a sexually explicit story in a student newspaper.

During Buttigieg’s speech, Bonnici repeatedly insisted that artists will not be fully safe from judicial proceedings unless vilification is struck off the criminal code.

“If the police has any doubt, they will still charge artists in court,” he said. “Sometimes the distinction between what is cultural and what isn’t is not so easy to make.”

However, Buttigieg warned that the Bill as proposed has “created a pandemonium” outside Parliament and that it risks inciting religious tension.

“Let’s introduce a law that is clearly intended to protect artists and not unintentionally introduce a new type of culture,” she said.