10:26, May 15 229 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-15 10:26:04
European court overturns Malta ban on Auschwitz play

A theatre company has been awarded €20,000 by the European court of human rights after a Scottish playwright’s drama about Auschwitz was wrongly banned in Malta on the grounds of obscenity, blasphemy and glorifying sexual perversion.

The unanimous judgment by the Strasbourg court over Anthony Neilson’s play Stitching was welcomed by actors and directors as a victory for artistic freedom.

The show has been performed in Britain although it prompted protest walkouts by some of the audience at the Edinburgh festival in 2002.

When a Maltese company, Unifaun Theatre Productions, applied for a rating certificate from Malta’s Board for Film and Stage Classification in 2008, it was denied permission to stage the play.

The board defended the ban, saying the play was blasphemous, showed contempt for the victims of the Holocaust, portrayed dangerous sexual perversions and referred to the sexual assault of children.

Unifaun appealed and the ECHR’s judges on Tuesday ruled that the board’s decision violated article 10 of the European convention on human rights which guarantees freedom of expression. Lawyers for the Unifaun alleged that the board’s classification was based on a total misreading of the work and should not form a legitimate foundation for judging the moral standards of a play.

The court awarded the company and four individuals €10,000 in damages and a further €10,000 in legal costs.

“Justice has prevailed,” the producer Adrian Buckle told the Times of Malta, adding that the play will now be staged on the island.

Malta’s justice and culture minister, Owen Bonnici, tweeted: “I welcome ECHR decision which overturned … #Stitching ban. At the time we were completely against the decision and once in government we radically reformed existing laws to increase artistic freedom, despite criticism from the opposition.”


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