Activist Receives Up to 13 Months for Protesting in Philippines Church

A Philippines court recently sentenced a pro-contraceptives activist who demonstrated in a national cathedral in 2010 up to 13 months' imprisonment for "offending religious beliefs."

Carlos Celdran, a 40-year-old tour guide and activist, was found guilty of "offending religious beliefs" according to Article 133, a Revised Penal Code which has been in effect since 1930 and states that no one "in a place of worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony, shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful."

Celdran's sentencing will include anywhere from two months to one year in jail.

Human Rights Watch has called Celdran's sentencing "archaic" and a "setback for free speech."

"Nobody should be jailed for voicing out an opinion or position, especially on a subject that concerns the lives of millions of Filipino women and mothers," Human Rights Watch's Asia researcher, Carlos Conde, told BBC News.

Others, including Filipino President Benigno Aquino III, expressed sympathy for Celdran, who has indicated his plans to appeal his case to the Supreme Court in the hopes of declaring Article 133 unconstitutional.

"I may sympathize with Mr. Celdran's position. Perhaps the methodology of disrupting a mass, maybe we don't agree with it," the Pacific country's president said in a statement, as reported by the Manila Standard Today.

President Aquino went on to express hope that Celdran will be forgiven by Catholic leaders in the country, saying he "[believes the leaders] will find it in their hearts to show Christian generosity and charity and maybe they will be able to forgive Mr. Celdran and move on."

Celdran was arrested in 2010 after he demonstrated in support of the country's new family planning laws during a mass at Manila's main cathedral.

Celdran stood in the cathedral, dressed as the national hero Jose Rizal, and held up a sign which read "Damaso," a reference to the villainous friar in Rizal's 1887 novel, Noli Me Tangere.

The activist was protesting the Catholic Church's opposition to contraception laws in the country, which has an 80 percent Catholic population.

This recent ruling against Celdran comes only one month after the country's lawmakers approved legislation, known as the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, which calls for government-funded contraception, meaning health centers must hand out free condoms and birth control pills, and schools must run sex education classes.

The law, which went into effect in mid-January, is still widely refuted by Catholic leaders in the country, who argue that it will destroy marriage and morality in the country.

Some argue that the passing of this recent bill shows the Catholic Church's waning influence on the country, as well as the ending of an era, as for decades it was considered taboo to violate the word of the church.