Jul 09

Blasphemy law reforms welcomed

The Malta Humanist Association congratulates Minister Owen Bonnici for the proposal of legal reforms to the Criminal Code which will amongst other things strike off sanctions against blasphemy, which date back to 1933.

Recent world events have seen shocking cases like that of Raif Badawi, sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for “blasphemy” against Islam, as well as many others whose case was not so high-profile but who still face imprisonment, and many who live in exile, because a group of people found issue with something they said or wrote. While western countries rightly condemned this barbaric treatment, such condemnations ring hollow while many of the legal codes in these same countries still criminalise blasphemy.

Indeed Malta's laws, while not carrying such inhumane penalties, have been used in the recent past to charge people for publishing articles, to prevent plays from being staged and to prosecute revellers in carnival costumes among other cases. In 2012 alone, over 99 people were convicted under these blasphemy laws, while in the first half of 2011, 119 people were convicted.

There is no reason to hold religion to a different standard than any other ideology. People may feel as strongly about a political ideology as someone else feels about their faith, yet we do not criminalise anyone who vilifies capitalism, or someone who insults Marxism. Religious beliefs have a strong influence on people - sometimes even those who do not espouse that belief - so these beliefs must be open to criticism the same as any other school of thought. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience are fundamental human rights that we all benefit from and must protect.

In a similar vein, the “obscenity laws” that prohibited articles that “unduly emphasised sex, crime, horror, cruelty and violence” are also a welcome removal. We need to move away from a nanny state in which the government chooses what we may watch, hear or read, towards a more mature society in which adults can make informed choices.