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Update 3: Front against Censorship insists it it not contesting amendments on child porn

Update 3 -

The Front Against Censorship insisted this afternoon that it was against any form of pornography involving children.

Reacting to a statement issued by the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, it said the the ministry had either misunderstood its criticism of recent amendments to the Criminal Law or was deliberately trying to mislead the public.

The Front said that in its criticism it had attacked changes made to Article 208 of the Criminal Code, which made no reference to child pornography.

The measures intended to protect children were found in articles 208A, 208B as well as the newly inserted articles 208AA, 208AB, 208AC, among others.

The Front said it was reiterating that it opposed pornography when this included children, and it had not challenged the amendments to those articles.

It pointed out that its own suggestions for legal changes had included a clause saying that:

“The distribution and production of pornography should not be illegal as long as it does not involve human trafficking, the abuse of minors, the exploitation of the human person or any other criminal acts defined by law.”

The Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs in reply said that it welcomed the Front’s 'change of position against pornography involving children'.

It pointed out that in its earlier press release, the Front had spoken of “dismay at some of the changes approved by Parliament to the Criminal Code.”

"It is therefore logical to believe that the Front was objecting to other amendments to Article 208 that came into effect on 9th July 2010 apart from the increase in penalties related to the criminal offence of producing, circulating, or possessing pornographic material with the intent of distribution or display in a public place."

Ultimately, the ministry said, it was the Front Against Censorship that tried to mislead the public into thinking that the amendments to Article 208 of the Criminal Code which were approved unanimously by the House of Representatives to better protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation, were intended to serve as a form of censorship.

In another statement earlier, the Ministry said that amendments to the Criminal Code which the Front Against Censorship was vehemently opposed to, were intended to protect children from sexual exploitation, pornography and grooming on the internet with the intent of engaging them in sexual acts and paedophilia.

The amendments to Article 208 of the Criminal Code came into effect on Friday.

The ministry said the first of these amendments laid down an 18-month to five-year prison sentence for the offence of compelling a minor to perform sexual activities with another person and causing a minor to witness sexual abuse or activities even if the minor did not participate in the activities.

The same prison sentence also applied to anyone who caused a minor to participate in real or simulated sexual conduct or the exhibition of sexual organs, including through technological means, or who knowingly attended a pornographic performance involving the participation of a minor.

The punishment for the abuse of minors was increased by one to two degrees if the minor suffered physical or mental harm as a result of the sexual abuse, if the minor was a vulnerable person, if the offence was committed by two or more persons acting together, if the offender lived with or was a member of the victim’s family and if the offender was a relapser with similar offences.

Furthermore, the definition of the possession of pornographic material depicting minors had been extended to the acquisition through information and communication technology. Such an offence carries with it a prison term of up to three years.

The ministry said there are also stiffer penalties for those who are convicted of possessing pornographic material of a minor while holding a position of trust with that minor. The penalties have been extended to include any depiction of a minor of any age involved in acts of bestiality, brutality, sadism or torture.

In such cases, the applicable prison sentences have been increased from between 18 months and seven years to between two and nine years when the offender is convicted of producing, transmitting, distributing, selling, importing, exporting or making available indecent material involving the said minor.

The ministry insisted that such amendments were intended to protect children from whosoever, by means of information and communication technology, proposed to meet them for the purpose of committing any acts of paedophilia or sexual abuse.

Offenders found guilty of such behaviour would, where the proposal was followed by material acts leading to such a meeting, be liable on conviction to imprisonment for between one and four years.

The ministry said that new provisions had also been introduced to address the advertisement of sex tourism. It said that this now carried a prison sentence of between one and two years. The same applies to anyone convicted of being involved in travel arrangements for such purposes.

The ministry said these amendments were first presented to the House and published in the Government Gazette on February 12 and there had been ample time for public debate. The Bill was unanimously approved by Parliament on June 15.

It said that similar legislation intended to protect children and other vulnerable persons from sexual exploitation exists in most European countries.

"The fact that The Front Against Censorship is opposing such legal provisions is a clear indication that the Front has either failed to understand the aim of these amendments or is evidence of the fact that the Front does not endorse the same values the people of this country have consistently upheld," the ministry said.

In a statement which had caused the minstry's reaction, the Front Against Censorship had expressed dismay at some of the changes approved by Parliament.

The front complained that the recent amendments had raised the penalties for violation of Article 208 on the production, circulation and possession of material which could be deemed pornographic if intended for display in a public place. The previous punishment was a jail term of not more than six months or a fine of not more than €465.87 , or both. Under the new amendment, the offence is now punishable by 6-12 months in jail or by a fine of between €1,000 and €3,000 or both.

"The Front is disappointed at the fact that instead of repealing the harsh prison sentences which would be the shame of any European nation, the law has actually been amended to increase them.

"The Front wishes to remind that this is the same law used to prosecute persons in the Ir-Realta case, and that therefore, whoever voted in favour of this Act not only agreed with the draconian proceedings taken against the student newspaper, but also wanted to punish such activities more harshly. The Front believes that a culture of terror is being created amongst the artistic community in this country, who fear being prosecuted if they include sexual themes in their work."

It said that this update to the law was even more shocking when one considered that the National Cultural Policy being drafted at the moment had made it a point of encouraging openness and artistic creativity. It also came in the shadow of the ruling on the Stitching case which indicated that banning the play did not violate the theatre company's constitutional rights to free speech, and the recent removal of erotic pictures from the Gozo Contemporary Arts Festival.

"The Front thus has reason to believe that the censorship phenomenon is becoming steadily worse as time passes, and wishes to appeal to people who have artistic freedom at heart to attend the funeral march for art which will start at the Valletta City Gate on the 24th of July at 10:30am. During this demonstration, the Front will be symbolising the death of art at the ever more authoritarian hands of the censorship regime "

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