Category: World / November 19, 2012 7:32 PM EST
Members of the cast and crew of an American play performed in Greece that depicted Jesus Christ and his apostles as gay were charged with blasphemy on Friday (November 16) in a move described as a "joke" by the play's director.
The production of 'Corpus Christi' in Athens was cancelled this month after weeks of protests outside the theatre by priests and right-wing groups, including deputies from the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party.
Charges of "insulting religion" and "malicious blasphemy" were filed after Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus lodged a lawsuit against those involved in the play, court officials said on Friday.
Speaking to Reuters from the theatre which hosted the production, the play's director Laertes Vassiliou heaped scorn on the decision.
"This is a joke. Come on, it's a joke. They have accused us… they haven't seen the performance. So it's a joke, no?"," he said.
If found guilty, Vassiliou and the other defendants could face several months in prison. A trial date has not yet been set.
The charges drew criticism from rights groups and politicians, with the co-ruling Democratic Left party describing the country's blasphemy laws as "anachronistic" and calling for them to be revised.
But during the play's short run it was plagued by demonstrations outside the theatre from religious and political figures, some of whom waved crucifixes.
"They were threatening our lives. It was a barbarian act. It was a vandalism. They were acting, even men, MPs of the Greek parliament, they were acting like hooligans outside the theatre," he said.
He added that the charges were made all the more surprising by the fact that they were filed on the anniversary of the 1973 student uprising in Athens, hailed as an important moment for freedom and protest in Greece.
"In Greece of 2012… They try to take the voice out of the theatre," he said.
Blasphemy charges are rarely pressed in Greece, but in September a 27-year-old man was arrested on the same charge for creating a Facebook page mocking a deceased Orthodox monk prompting Greeks to take to social networking sites in protest.
Last month, Greek state television came under fire from the main opposition party and critics for editing a gay kiss out of the prime-time premiere of British period drama 'Downton Abbey'.
The incidents have fuelled popular disenchantment with a political class many Greeks say has failed to go after big names of tax evasion and crack down on widespread corruption.