Saturday, January 18, 2014

Freedom of Speech: Of Dead Monks and Muzzled Media

Source: Human Rights Watch

Dispatches: Of Dead Monks and Muzzled Media

Eva Cossé

If I said there was a country where a man has just been convicted for satirizing a dead monk, which country would you think of? It probably wouldn’t be a European Union member state, let alone the one that currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

But strange as it may sound, both are true: it’s Greece.

Greek justice delivered a heavy blow to freedom of expression yesterday, when a criminal court sentenced 27-year-old Filippos Loizos to 10 months in jail, suspended for three years, for running a satirical Facebook profile making fun of a deceased Greek Orthodox monk.

Loizos was arrested in September 2012 and charged by a prosecutor with the offense of “insulting religion” under a 1951 blasphemy law, and then released pending trial. The outdated and problematiclaw criminalizes “malicious blasphemy” and “insulting religion” with up to two years in prison.

Under international and European human rights law, freedom of expression may be limited, for example, to protect public safety and the rights of others, but such limitations must be strictly necessary and proportionate. And they should never be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders, or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith. Greek citizens should have every right to free speech, and be able to satirize, mock, and criticize religious leaders, even if it is considered offensive or disrespectful by some.

The fact that Greek law punishes this kind of expression is shameful. If Greece wants to live up to its role as president of the Council of the European Union, the government should defend freedom of speech, and immediately repeal this abusive and “medieval” law. Until then, prosecutors and the courts should refrain from applying it.