A new law restricting ‘extreme pornography’ has been introduced amid warnings from a UK advocacy group that it risks criminalising sexual minorities and making it illegal for adults to watch depictions of legal sex acts.

While criminalising pornography depicting bestiality or necrophilia, the new regulations also make it illegal to possess images which portray non-consensual sexual activity or acts that could result in “severe injury”, even if the images are staged and all the participants are consenting adults.

Anyone convicted under the new law will be liable to up to three years in prison or a fine of up to €6,000.

Activists have warned that the British law on which the regulations are based has led to several convictions for possession of pornography depicting BDSM (bondage and dominance, sadism and masochism), rough sex and other common, albeit non-mainstream, sexual preferences.

“There is a wide range of material that could be covered by the law’s language, but it is unclear whether or how it could be used by prosecutors,” Nick Cowen from UK advocacy group Backlash told the Times of Malta when the law was first presented.

“This means people face a lot of uncertainty as to what is illegal, which is potentially very damaging to the rule of law. The law can harm anyone experimenting with alternative sexual acts that can be as safe (or safer) than intercourse.”

The lawyer who drafted the regulations has argued that there is a legitimate aim to criminalise pornography which “might induce certain people to copy what they are seeing” but admitted that there was a “bit of a grey area” as to what could be prosecuted.

Under the new law, an image will be deemed as ‘extreme’ if it portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, an act which takes or threatens a person’s life; an act which results, or is likely to result, in a person’s severe injury; rape or other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity; sexual activity involving, directly or indirectly, a human corpse; or an act which involves sexual activity between a person and an animal or the carcass of an animal.

The Justice Ministry has confirmed that the fact that an image is portrayed by actors would not exclude it from the regulations, “as long as it is explicit and realistic”.

For the first time, however, the new law excludes artistic works from prosecution under pornography laws, as an image will only be deemed pornographic if it can be reasonably assumed to have been produced primarily for the purpose of sexual arousal.

Works that are in the interest of science, literature, art or learning are excluded.

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