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Jesus Comic Enrages Greeks

Vivian Papanayotou (jb)
February 8, 2005

A controversial comic book depicting Jesus as a party animal is not amusing the Greeks. They have banned the book and sentenced its author to a six-month jail term.

Art or blasphemy?Image: dpa

Calling it "hurtful to public decency and blasphemous," an Athens court upheld a ban on a comic book portraying Jesus Christ as a naked surfer high on marijuana and sentenced its author to six months in jail last month.

The book's Greek publishers and four local booksellers were acquitted of all charges regarding the book, called "The Life of Jesus." A separate case on the book's seizure is pending in the Greek Supreme Court.

"If the ban is not lifted, we'll consider appealing to the European Court of Human Rights," said Haderer's lawyer, Minas Mihailovic.

Ruling is "scandalous"

Das Leben des Jesus, Gerhard Haderer
another view of JesusImage: dpa

Austrian author Gerhard Haderer did not attend the trial and faces imprisonment only if he enters Greece. He called the ruling "scandalous."

"I have done nothing other than to go too far in depicting the contrast between non-believers and believers," he said. "But when the state suddenly begins to set limits for humor, then that is really a reason for disquiet."

Haderer's book, which sold over 100,000 German-language copies, is reportedly the first one to be banned in Greece in more than 20 years. It first ran into trouble in February 2003 after the Greek edition was confiscated by the Greek government and the powerful and conservative Greek Orthodox Church filed a complaint against the author.

In 2000, another book, an erotic Greek novel was provisionally seized in Greece after the church condemned it as blasphemous.

Jesus on a surfing trip

Eine Illustration aus dem Cartoon-Band Das Leben des Jesus
a surfing JesusImage: AP

The book is controversial because of its out-of-the-ordinary depictions of Jesus, such as one of his crossing the Sea of Galilee naked on a surfboard, receiving divine inspiration from frankincense. One illustration recasts the Last Supper as a drinking binge. Characters such as fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and the late guitar wonder Jimi Hendrix mingle with Jesus in the tales.

The book has been published in Austria, Germany, France, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Hungary and South Korea. In some countries, it has sparked protests and a Czech lawmaker wanted the author fined. But in no other country has the book been banned.

"After all, Greece is a member of the European Union and, so you would think, not a religious state in which an artist's freedom of expression is kicked to the ground," said Harderer's publisher, Fritz Panzer.

Blasphemy laws hinder artistic freedom

The crackdown on the book was condemned by the Geneva-based International Publishers' Association (IPA) because of concerns that the ruling will hinder other authors.

Gerhard Haderer mit seinen Karikaturen
Gerhard Haderer poses in front of one of his comicsImage: dpa
"While IPA opposes all forms of religious intolerance, it stands for the elimination of all prohibitions limiting freedom of expression whether imposed by governments or by religious authorities," IPA officials wrote in a statement.

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