Labour MP Owen Bonnici berated the "madness" of having a play banned by the state and a fiction writer threatened with jail in a modern European democracy.

"If we don't agree on these basic principles, we might as well stop talking right now," he said during a discussion at the University organised by the Front Against Censorship.

He described the situation as a "crisis" where people with hidden agendas and an interest in restricting freedom of expression were "confusing" people by picking on the details and exceptions instead of agreeing on core principles and revising the law to reflect modern ideals.

"Sometimes, I fear we are regressing rather than moving forward on this issue," he said, adding that he was expecting consensus on such basic issues in Parliament's obscenities committee.

He spoke after writer and philosopher Joe Friggieri questioned whether everything should be accepted and argued that stricter laws were not necessarily less progressive.

"Fifty years ago it was acceptable to ridicule a disabled person but now it is not and it should not be," he said.

Student Ingram Bondin, a member of the Front, pointed out that even the University, which was meant to promote creativity, kept famous books, like Irvine Welsh's Porno and a biography about Marquis de Sade, "under lock and key" in a restricted section of the library.

He said the Front had five proposals on the way the laws of the country had to change, including the removal of a board that was allowed to censor films or plays and the revising of obscenity, pornography and blasphemy laws.

Lawyer Alex Sciberras insisted the law should be revised to follow a "publish and be damned" policy by which artists and writers be held accountable for their actions through the country's laws but not stopped from expressing themselves before they got the chance.

He said the European Court of Human Rights made it clear that freedom of expression included the right to "shock, offend and disturb" because the dangers of restricting such freedom were worse than the consequences of leaving people free.

Alternattiva Demokratika spokesman Arnold Cassola said a distinction had to be made between what was said in reality and what was said as part of a creative piece. While hate speech was not allowed by law, one could not take action against a creative piece of work for containing a racist character.

Prof. Friggieri agreed but warned about films and plays that glorified such sentiments where, for example, racists could use fictional means to drive a dangerous message home.

Journalist Raphael Vassallo said laws criminalising blasphemy against the Catholic religion were "tremendously ironic" because Jesus Christ himself was persecuted for blasphemy in his time.

He argued that laws restricting freedom of expression had to be less vague and more up-to-date to reflect the context of the time.

"According to the Press Act, it is not allowed to reduce someone to ridicule, which means I can technically be taken to court for every satirical article I write," he said.

Dr Bonnici said the least Culture Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco could have done was attend and listen to what was being said but this attitude was symptomatic of a government that did not care about this issue.

Dr de Marco was invited to the debate but did not attend because the government was still in the process of drawing up its policies on the subject.

When contacted, Dr de Marco confirmed, adding that he was also unable to attend because he had an important tourism-related appointment. He said he was willing to meet the Front to discuss the issue further.

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