Whereas the rest of Europe has an unwritten blasphemy law enforced by violent religious
intolerants, Malta quaintly has an official blasphemy law enforced by the police.
In the light of the muslim terrorism in Paris, the Maltese press have been noting the irony the country's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat heading off to Paris to participate in a unity rally, whilst presiding over a country with a blasphemy law that makes
it illegal to acquire or distribute the many issues of Charlie Hebdo featuring religious cartoonery.
Uttering any obscene words - although what constitutes obscene words is not defined - in public is one of the contraventions affecting public order included in Article 338 of the Criminal Code. But Article 342 sets out that if the act involves
blasphemous words or expressions, the offender may be jailed for up to three months, although a fine may be levied instead.
Another contravention listed in Article 338 includes ecclesiastical habits or vestments among the uniforms which cannot be worn without the permission of the authorities.
The Criminal Code also includes three articles which specifically address crimes against the religious sentiment. Article 163 and 164 concern the vilification of religion, granting a privileged position to the Roman Catholic religion - declared to
be Malta's religion in the Constitution - in the process.
Article 163 sets out that whoever publicly vilifies the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion which is the religion of Malta, or gives offence to the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion by vilifying those who profess such religion or its ministers, or
anything which forms the object of, or is consecrated to, or is necessarily destined for Roman Catholic worship, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from one to six months. Article 164 criminalises the same behaviour when
directed towards any cult tolerated by law, but in this case, only a maximum jail term of three months is foreseen.
Article 165 criminalises the obstruction of religious services, this time making no distinction between Roman Catholic services and those of other religions tolerated by law. Anyone who obstructs religious services carried out with the assistance of a
minister of religion or in any place of worship or in any public place or place open to the public may be jailed for up to one year, or up to two years if the obstruction involves threats or violence.
A Maltese Charlie Hebdo would clearly fall foul of both Article 163 - the cover of one issue, for instance, carried a depiction of the Trinity engaged in a sexual act - and Article 164.
Due to some of the magazine's more risque content, anyone involved in its production or distribution could also be prosecuted under Article 208, which criminalises the production, acquisition or distribution of obscene or pornographic material, with
offenders liable to imprisonment for up to 1 year.
And it's not as if Maltese blasphemy law is some sort of dormant anachronism from the past. Blasphemy laws are still actively enforced, and a number of people have received suspended jail terms as a result.
A number of people had ended up in Court and charged with vilifying the Roman Catholic religion in the wake of the 2009 Nadur carnival. Then-Archbishop of Malta, Paul Cremona, and Gozo Bishop Mario Grech had jointly urged the authorities to intervene
before the police confirmed that arraignments would take place.
A 26-year-old man who dressed up as Jesus received a one-month jail term suspended for six months after pleading guilty. But a group who dressed up as nuns pleaded not guilty and were acquitted because they were not wearing any religious symbols.
However, another young man received a suspended jail term for vilifying the Roman Catholic religion in 2009: he displayed visuals which included, among other things, Pope John Paul II and a naked woman while DJing at a music festival.