After weeks of protests by Greek Orthodox priests and the country's conservative groups, the public prosecutor's office in Athens filed charges of blasphemy against the actors and the director and producer of an American play that depicted Jesus Christ and his apostles as gay.
The team behind "Corpus Christi," a 1997 play by U.S. playwright Terrence McNally, has been charged with "insulting religion" and "malicious blasphemy," based on a lawsuit by Orthodox Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus against those involved in the play, according to Reuters.
"What I see is that there are people who have robbed the country blind who are not in jail and the prosecutor turns against art," Albanian-born director Laertis Vasiliou was quoted as saying, referring to tax evaders and others blamed for driving Greece to near-bankruptcy.
Police were tasked Friday with identifying production and cast members. If proven guilty, the defendants could face several months in prison.
When the play opened at the Hytirio Theater in down town Athens last month, demonstrators, including members of Greece's conservative Golden Dawn party, blocked the entrance and clashed with police, Reuters reported. The party opposes immigration and calls for deportation of anyone who is not Greek-born.
"It was not our intention to provoke 'religious sentiment' or to create tensions," the play's organizers said in a statement.
Greek Reporter said critics were comparing the attacks on the play to the prosecution of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot for staging an anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow's main cathedral.
The co-ruling Democratic Left party has described the country's blasphemy laws as "anachronistic" and called for their revision.
"It's the bullies and the neo-Nazis clashing outside the theater who should be put on the stand and not the actors," Reuters quoted Petros Constantinou, head of the United Against Racism and Fascist Violence Movement, as saying. "The government is panicking and it's looking to the far-right for crutches," he said, describing the decision as a "glorification of the Dark Ages."
Written in 1997 and first staged in New York in 1998, the play depicts Jesus and the Apostles as gay men living in modern-day Texas. In the play, Judas betrays Jesus because of sexual jealousy, and Jesus administers gay marriage between two apostles.