17 Nov 2012

Blasphemy charges filed over play

11:37 am on 17 November 2012

Actors and the producer and director of an American play in Greece that depicted Jesus Christ and his apostles as gay have been charged with blasphemy, according to court officials.

A production of Corpus Christi in Athens was cancelled earlier in November after weeks of almost daily protests outside the theatre by priests and right-wing groups, including deputies from the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party.

Charges of "insulting religion" and "malicious blasphemy" have been filed after Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus lodged a lawsuit against those involved in the play, the officials said on Friday.

The play's director told Reuters he was stunned that prosecutors had chosen to go after him rather than pursue tax evaders and others blamed for driving Greece to near-bankruptcy.

"What I see is that there are people who have robbed the country blind who are not in jail and the prosecutor turns against art," Albanian-born Laertis Vasiliou said.

If found guilty, Mr Vasiliou and the other defendants could face several months in prison. A trial date has not been set yet.

The charges drew criticism from rights groups and politicians, with the co-ruling Democratic Left party describing the country's blasphemy laws as "anachronistic" and calling for them to be revised.

Blasphemy charges are rarely pressed in Greece, but in September a 27-year-old man was arrested on the same charge for creating a Facebook page mocking a deceased Orthodox monk prompting Greeks to take to social networking sites in protest.

In October, Greek state television came under fire from the main opposition party and critics for editing a gay kiss out of the primetime premiere of British period drama Downton Abbey.