Dogma Alert

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Cartoonist cleared of 'blasphemy'


ATHENS (AP) - An appeals court Wednesday overturned the conviction of Austrian cartoonist Gerhard Haderer for blasphemy over a comic book portraying Jesus as a marijuana-moking hippie.

Haderer, 54, was given a six-month suspended prison sentence in January for "maliciously insulting the Orthodox Church" and his book The Life of Jesus was banned in Greece - causing protests from European human-ights groups and other cartoonists.

The book, published in several European countries, portrays Jesus as a hippie surfer who enjoys smoking marijuana with friends and celebrities including Jimi Hendrix.

"He has been cleared and the book is no longer banned," Haderer's lawyer, Maria Marazioti, said. "We all agreed it's not something that special to have the book published in the Greek market, and that the artist had no intention to insult Christianity. Everyone understood that, even the priests."

The three-member court was unanimous in its ruling.

Haderer was not present at the hearing Wednesday. He was informed of the ruling from his lawyer by phone.

The Greek edition of Haderer's book was first published in 2003.

The powerful Orthodox Church wields considerable influence in public and political life in Greece, where nearly 97 per cent of the native-born population is baptized into the church.

Marazioti argued Haderer's conviction violated the human-ights conventions of both the European Union and the United Nations.

"The prosecutor acknowledged . . . a mistake was made in the first trial which had to be corrected," she said. "The judges also saw the problem immediately."

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization, affiliated with the International Press Institute, had sent a letter to Greece's prime minister and president in February condemning the conviction as "a clear attack on freedom of expression."

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe also complained to the Greek government. The book has been published in several other European Union countries.


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