The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and association. However, anti-blasphemy laws and state sponsorship of religion exist.
Recent years have seen a number of blasphemy cases, coinciding with increasing xenophobia and civil strife in Greek society. Article 198 of the Greek Penal Code states that “1. One who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes God shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years; 2. Anyone, except as described in par.1, who displays publicly with blasphemy a lack of respect for things divine, is punished with up to 3 months in prison.”
Article 199 states that “one who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes the Greek Orthodox Church or any other religion tolerable in Greece shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years.” Similarly, the country outlaws any speech or acts that “insults public sentiment” or “offends people’s religious sentiments.”
Our coalition partner the Humanist Union of Greece wrote on 2 February 2015 to the Minister of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights, citing the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, and calling for the repeal of Greece’s “blasphemy laws”.
On June 9th, 2012, three actors in the play “Corpus Christi” were arrested on the charge of blasphemy following a lawsuit filed by Greek Orthodox Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus. Then, in November, the Athens public prosecutor charged the organizers, producers and cast of the play with blasphemy. If convicted, they could face several months in prison. According to newspaper reports, Bishop Seraphim was accompanied to court by members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.
On March 14th, 2013, Greek artist Dionysis Kavalieratos was tried in court on blasphemy charges for three of his Christian-themed cartoons that were displayed in a private Athens art gallery. The gallery owner was a co-defendant. He was acquitted.
In late September, 2012, a man was arrested in Evia, Greece, on charges of posting “malicious blasphemy and religious insult on the known social networking site, Facebook”. The accused, 27-year-old Phillipos Loizos, had created a Facebook page for “Elder Pastitsios the Pastafarian”, playing on a combination of Elder Paisios, the late Greek-Orthodox monk revered as a prophet by some, and the Greek food pastitsio, a baked pasta dish made of ground beef and béchamel sauce. “Pastafarian” refers to the spoof religion of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, itself an intentional pun on aspects of Creationism. A manipulated image on the Facebook page depicted Elder Pastitsios with a pastitsio where the monk’s face would normally appear.
Loizos was eventually handed a 10-month suspended prison sentence. Despite a campaign to abolish the “blasphemy” law this did not happen, and the Loizos faced an appeals court again in March 2017. The suspended prison sentence was then quashed, ostensibly as part of an administrative decision to clear out “misdemeanour” crimes of long-standing.