On Tuesday, Parliament finally approved Bill 113, which enacts the censorship reform of the Criminal Code. The two most important changes introduced by this Bill are the repeal of the crime of religious vilification and the relaxation of the pornography law through its replacement by an extreme pornography law.

The censorship saga began in 2009 when the theatre censorship board banned Unifaun Theatre’s play Stitching.

Shortly after, the police arraigned author Alex Vella Gera and editor Mark Camilleri for publishing the short story Li tkisser sewwi in the student newspaper Ir-Realtà. The two were charged with obscene libel and dissemination of pornography.

The Ir-Realtà incident led to the formation of the Front Against Censorship, which was to adopt a five-point censorship reform programme and wage a long campaign for the reform of censorship laws. This five-point programme advocated the end of the theatre censorship board, the repeal of the pornography, obscene libel and religious vilification laws and a change to the broadcasting law to allow programmes that might be suitable for adults only to be aired after 10pm.

One now looks forward to the reform of the Press Act and the removal of the obscene libel law

The struggle against censorship was an uphill battle. Unifaun Theatre filed a constitutional case against the theatre censorship board, claiming it had infringed on its right to freedom of expression, but its claims were rejected by the Constitutional Court.

Vella Gera and Camilleri were found not guilty, and the sentence was upheld on appeal.

Between 2009 and 2011, the censorship regime became more oppressive, with censorship cases increasing and the pornography law being strengthened even further.

The monopoly of ultra-conservative forces on the State’s repressive apparatus was, however, to be weakened with the result of the 2011 divorce referendum. This opened a window for theatre censorship to be replaced by a system of self-classification under the reform initiated by then-minister Mario de Marco in 2012.

Unfortunately, the other reforms demanded by the Front Against Censorship proved impossible to enact for the Nationalist administration. Instead, they were to be adopted by the subsequent Labour government, and, on July 3, 2015, minister Owen Bonnici introduced Bill 113 amending the Criminal Code.

The government is to be highly commended for finally enacting this reform, which, just a few years ago, seemed impossible to many. This means that three out of the five proposals put forward by the Front Against Censorship are now law.

One now looks forward to the reform of the Press Act and the removal of the obscene libel law.

With the reform of the Press Act, one hopes the opportunity will be taken to also remove the abomination that is criminal libel, the bane of journalists and the free press.

I wish to conclude by thanking all the activists of the Front Against Censorship who have made this reform possible, the various media outlets that gave sympathetic coverage to this cause and the many people who have done their share to arrive where we are today.

Ingram Bondin is an activist with the Front Against Censorship

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