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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

And you thought prosecutions for blasphemy were a thing of the past

Though the pictures seem pretty, as a Christian, I probably would not care for the new book by Gerhard Haderer, an Austrian cartoonist. He depicts Christ as a “binge-drinking friend of Jimi Hendrix and naked surfer high on cannabis.” What daring iconoclasm! In 1905, maybe. In 2005, apart from six nonagerian nuns living in enclosed orders and a few hobby-protesters, nobody gives a monkeys.

Yesterday if anyone had made the slightest suggestion that the furore that results from writing such a book qualified a man to be regarded as some sort of martyr for free speech, I’d have retorted that the “furore” had probably been budgeted for to the last euro by the publishers. “Regrettably, Herr Haderer, the market for Christian outrage is not what it was, and we cannot agree to your suggested advance.” Or I’d have suggested that if he wants to play martyr he could try it with the Muslims, who are more likely to enter into the spirit of the game.

But by the holy bowels of Jimi Hendrix, the poor little poseur really is in danger of arrest. And do you know why? Because of the European arrest warrant, that’s why. An Austrian cartoonist and writer faces extradition to Greece (Greece: why does that not surprise me?) for something he wrote in Austria. I assume that Austria has no law, or dead-letter law, against blasphemy. So he wrote something that was legal in Austria but not in Greece, and now he faces extradition to Greece. He did not even know his wretched book had been published in Greece.

I found this via Public Interest. Peter Briffa points out that when this law was introduced much was said by its sponsors about extraditing foreign criminals to Britain … and very little about the extradition of British people to foreign countries for “crimes” that might well not be crimes at all in Britain.

Perhaps some legally knowledgeable reader can tell me if there is anything at all to stop this happening to, for instance, a British Samizdata contributor, if the authorities in some foreign capital should take a dislike to something he or she had written.

22 comments to And you thought prosecutions for blasphemy were a thing of the past

  • John Thacker

    What. The.
    I’m still just stunned, even though this should have seemed inevitable.

    I note that someone’s trying to sue Schwartznegger in the UK for no good reason (for a CA offense) to take advantage of the tougher libel laws.

  • Verity

    First, Natalie, “hobby protesters” – destined to enter the language. In fact, in my head, already has. Thanks.

    John Thacker, I don’t know why she is able to do this unless the accusations of lying were published in a British publication … dunno. But the California governor is well-equipped to take care of himself.

    It’s this EU garbage that Britain is going to have address with great urgency or agree to just lie back and think of England.

  • anonymous coward

    Whether one regards the sovereign state as a turnkey numbering his prisoners (Perry) or as a corporation constituted to defend its shareholders (Locke), one of the few reasons for its existence is to protect its citizens or subjects from meddling by other states.

  • Verity

    Anonymous – and the point of the EU, despite all the false promises given to citizens, is, there are no other states. We’re one with Greece.

    Will the British wake up before it’s too late?

  • Seems like Europe never did get out of the habit of criminalizing blasphemy. Of course, in this day most such laws focus on the secular variety – so-called “hate speech.”

  • Verity

    Alan – I don’t think I’m clear on your definition of “Europe”, a gigantic landmass. It sounds clever, but doesn’t make any sense. Where in “Europe” couldn’t get out of the habit of criminalising blasphemy? France? No-o-oo–. Germany? No-o-oo — Sweden? Denmark? Norway? No. They seem pretty clear. Spain, don’t know. Switzerland, no probs. Austria … Poland … I don’t think “Europe” has had any interest in criminalising blasphemy for around 50 years or more. Could you let us know what you mean by “Europe”?

  • Guy Herbert

    The single market means that if your book is published anywhere in the EU, it is published everywhere. There wouldn’t need to be a Greek edition.

    That’s normally a good thing. (Though it did result in extension of copyright everywhere to insane German lengths.)

    “Blasphemous libel” is still on the statute book in England, BTW.

  • Fascinating. Thank you, Natalie.

  • Pete_London

    An outrage and a most extreme impertinence of course, but no-one should be surprised. This is the very point of the EU. Forget a single market, that’s merely a stepping stone on the road to empire for Imperial Brussels. To the EU nutters nothing distinguishes Vienna and Athens. We are all Eurolanders now. Having said that, let’s have more of it. Let’s have Turkey in the club and a rigid application of one judicial system. Many won’t notice the coup d’etat of their own land until granny undergoes her own Midnight Express in a Turkish prison for wearing a crucifix.

  • Natalie,

    Haderer is in no threat of extradition, and the article doesn’t even say that he is.

    The European extradition warrant only can be used when the offense a country wnats to prosecute also is punishable in the person’s country of origin. Since there is no such thing as a blasphemy law in Austrai, Haderer isn’t facing extradition.

  • Surely the point of an extradition treaty is not that it allows us to drag our criminals back here–we should be glad to see the back of them–but that it allows us to stop our country filling up with their criminals on the run, the price being that we have to let them send ours back here.

    And, is it not blasphemous for the Greeks to keep going on and on about their pagan gods and asking the British Museum to send back statues of them.

    How about a campaign to have all Germans disqualified from driving for exceeding our speed limits on their motorways

  • I for one have been whining about the Euro arrest warrant for years, ever since it was first discussed. Pace Ralf, the entire point is that it does not have to be a crime in the country where extradition is sought, it refers to 21 specific crimes, some of which are not crimes here in the UK.
    Xenophobia, for example, meaning that we can all be extradited to France (without being able to appeal it in a court here, or ever face a jury) for practising the ancient and noble art of Frog bashing.
    Re jusrisdiction for libel. No, a book, paper or magazine does not have to be published in the UK for it to be subject to the UK libel laws. It only needs to be present in the UK for that to be true. A few copies leaking over the borders means that it is and large damages have been won in such cases.
    What is worse, is that as a result of the Dow Jones case in Australia, internet articles (and thus blog posts) are subject to the laws where they are downloaded, not where written or hosted. Everything here, at my place and everyone else’s blog is now subject to the laws of the 190 jurisdictions that have defamation laws.
    Criminal blasphemy? Gay Times trial, early 1970’s. Not all that long ago as far as the law is concerned.

  • This is the natural result of this idiotic law. I am not the slightest bit shocked that the Greeks are the first ones to abuse this statute. So how long will it be before Brussels starts going after people who publish Eurosceptic books? Might explain why I (and my agent) were unable to get my Eurosceptic cyberpunk novels published here in the UK.

  • The deal with the woman suing Schwarzenegger in the UK is over something printed in the L.A. Times— because it was available on the Internet, and hence in the UK. I hope the case gets stomped on hard because otherwise it’s a horrible precedent.

  • veryretired

    Freedom of expression is not a universally accepted value, and reminders like this should serve to keep those of us who cherish it on our guard.

  • Verity

    Very Retired – We’ve been on our guard for at least a couple of decades – since the EEC began to mutate into a monster federal Europe. So what? The people with seats on the most opulent gravy train in the history of the world don’t care what they have to do and how many tens of millions they have to lie to to keep it running comfortably.

    I’m sure no British commentator, for example, would think in his wildest imaginings that Peter Mandelson would resign (without a knife at his throat) over an issue like the victimisation of gays in, let’s say, Turkey.

  • B. Durbin.
    The point about an internet article being “published” in the country where it is downloaded has already been litigated, in both Canada and Australia. Would be most surprised if the English courts went against such precedents. I have an article coming early next week at TCS about this and the situation really is, as you say, horrible.

  • veryretired


    The situation is much the same in the US, except the blasphemy rules are not religious but secular. Witness the recent grovelling by Harvard’s Prez because he violated the PC doctrine that men and women must be the same, or, if there is a difference, it must be a case where women are superior.

    We have supposedly been on guard for over two centuries, with the torch of freedom of inquiry kept alight in our citadels of learning, only to realize these past few years that there is no freedom of speech or inquiry in our academic communities at all.

    It is an unfortunate fact that one has a better chance of a wide open conversation about any subject over a pool table at some local bar than in any university classroom.

    Which probably explains why I spent so much time in the former, and so little in the latter. Surely it wasn’t the beer and the pool, it must have been the conversation…yeah, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

  • Verity

    veryretired – Yes, I was disappointed that the prez of Harvard backed down (semi). If you can’t posit a theory in a university, especially one so revered, then I guess we should all just retire to the pool hall.

    I agree with you as far as your arguments go, but here we are talking about a foreign country applying its primitive laws to nationals of another country IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY. Certainly, the US is way too far down the road of the sacrifice of free speech, but they haven’t come quite this far. Yet.

  • I could have worded that better: the obsession with criminalizing blasphemy is a trend common in Europe. As veryretired and I stated, today that trend is mostly secular. The Samizdata Illuminatus once blogged on the cybercrime treaty that bans from the Internet material that “promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion.”

    Aside from other concerns, such speech codes are never applied evenly. Take two individuals. One is holding a “Bush = Hitler” sign, and the other is distributing tracts with Koranic quotes that suggest an inherent misogyny within Islam. Who is more likely to get hit with blasphemy charges?

    Come to think of it, how could anyone say more than two sentences about the Reformation without violating “hate speech ” laws?

  • Verity

    Alan, How would Bush=Hitler constitute anyone’s notion blasphemy?