Austrian artist Gerhard Haderer, the illustrator behind a comic that depicts Jesus as a laid-back, binge-drinking surfer who hangs out with Jimi Hendrix, has been convicted of blasphemy in Greece and given a six month sentence in abstentia. Greek police have raided bookshops to seize copies of the comic book, The Life of Jesus. While Greek Church spokesman Monsignor Epiphanios said, "It is not permissible to mock holy and sacred things," adding, "Humor is out of place when it comes to such subjects."
The slim, 40-page volume on Jesus' life begins with the baby Jesus becoming addicted to the three wise men's frankincense. After the first of many sniffs, a light forms around the baby's head, which accompanies him for all his life. Throughout the book Jesus' miracles happen by sheer luck rather than divine intervention. The illustrations show Jesus surfing, instead of walking on water, and have him appearing at the last supper with a bong.
A group of artists gathered in Vienna in March to draw attention to the ban of Haderer's book. It's the first book Greece has banned in more than 20 years. Haderer said he didn't even know his book had been published in Greece until he received the court summons. He'll be appearing in a Greek court in April to appeal.
When first published in his native Austria in spring 2002, Haderer's book drew some controversy and protests from religious figures but wasn't banned. Austria's highest-ranking Roman Catholic bishop dubbed the comic, "a threat to democracy." Catholic schools in Austria have announced a boycott against the book's publishing house and even the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schassel has publicly blasted the cartoons as "irreverent caricatures."
The German newspaper Die Welts says that "the question whether the New Testament can actually have a comic edition only stirs very orthodox Catholics, who'd like to issue a sort of Christian Fatwah on the artist."
Commenting on the decision by the Greek authorities, Haderer said, "Now we have really gone back to the Middle Ages. It didn't even get that far in Catholic Austria." Haderer stressed, "My book is not an attack on religion or on believers. It is meant for believers to take a more light-hearted look at their faith and through humor become closer to God."
The Life of Jesus has also been published in several countries including France, South Korea, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Germany, where Haderer is well-known for his weekly illustrations in the news magazine Stern. The book has sold more than 100,000 copies across Europe.
"It is unbelievable that a person can write a book in his home country and be condemned and threatened with imprisonment by another," said Nikki Conrad, a human rights expert. "But he is not going to just sit back and accept this injustice"
Haderer is prepared to take the issue to the European court of human rights. Meanwhile, the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN, the International Publishers' Association and the International Booksellers Federation have sent an open letter to Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis expressing their dismay at Haderer's sentence and at the banning of The Life of Jesus.
Alaska has flip-flopped on its marijuana laws a few times over the last 30 years, starting back in 1975, when it became legal for adult Alaskans to possess small amounts of marijuana in their homes for personal use.
In 1990, voters criminalized all amounts of pot by ballot initiative. Then, last year, the Alaska Court of Appeals reversed that vote, saying privacy rights guaranteed in the Alaska Constitution can't be taken away by voters or legislators.
Recently, the Alaska Supreme Court let that ruling stand by refusing to review the case. Then, the Court of Appeals ruled that police cannot execute a search warrant in a person's home for possessing small amounts of marijuana, defining that limit as four ounces.
State prosecutors tried to argue that the earlier decisions did not legalize marijuana, but that the decisions created a defense that people can use when charged with possession. They tried to argue that marijuana possession is still a criminal offense and that a warrant can be issued if there is probable cause. But the court dismissed the argument, saying the earlier decisions defined a constitutional limitation to the government's ability to prohibit marijuana possession.
Attorney General Gregg Renkes, not happy with the rulings, said he would appeal to the state Supreme Court, because he was "fearful that this will shut down effective investigation of marijuana growing cases." Renkes said, "It virtually prohibits us from getting search warrants to investigate marijuana home growing cases." The Alaska Supreme Court denied Renkes' petition.
However, Renkes is "not giving up." He wants to take his case to the legislature in order to prove that marijuana is a harmful enough drug to warrant amending the constitution.
"The state has been denied an opportunity to present a record of the harmfulness of marijuana," Renkes claims. "The exception of privacy at home does not extend to cocaine because the state has proven it's harmful. It outweighs the right to privacy."
But Renkes' crusade may be proven moot if voters pass Ballot Measure No. 2 scheduled for Nov. 2, 2004, which would remove all criminal and civil penalties for people 21 or older who "grow, use, sell or give away marijuana or hemp products."
According to Tim Hinterberger, an associate professor of the biomedical program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and organizer of Ballot Measure No. 2, "Alaska clearly has values of independence and responsibility and fairness that are different than the rest of the country. Clearly marijuana prohibition doesn't work, everyone knows that and it's time to try and find a different way."
The Ballot Measure No. 2 campaign opened its headquarters in Anchorage and started hitting the airwaves with its message. "We have ads on TV, we have ads on radio and we have campaigners doing door-to-door in selected areas," said Hinterberger.
Organizers of Ballot Measure No. 2 are hoping to make this measure more appealing than the last one in 2000. Previously, proponents wanted the drug to be legal for those 18 and older. They also wanted the government to free some jailed inmates convicted of marijuana crimes and set up a commission to consider reparations for them. But voters turned the initiative down.
Ballot Measure No. 2 does away with amnesty and reparations and increases the legal age to 21. It allows for government regulation and taxation of cannabis similar to that of tobacco or alcohol. It also allows for laws limiting use in public and to protect public safety, such as prohibiting people from driving while under the influence of pot.
If the initiative passes, Alaska will become the only state where it's legal to smoke, buy and sell pot. This is significant, for at any given time, over 800,000 people are in prison for pot crimes in the US, while an astounding 100 million people claim to have smoked pot at least once. This disparity between public use and incarceration proves that the current drug policy isn't working. It's time to try something new. And if Alaska breaks new ground, other states will surely follow with their own laws.
In the early hours of March 5, Victoria, BC police quietly surrounded the home of famous Canadian marijuana activist Marc Emery and his partner Coral Clay, then rang his phone until he awoke to answer it. Emery looked at his clock as he lifted the receiver. 3:30 am.
"This is the Victoria Police," said the cop. "We have your house surrounded. We have a warrant to enter the premises. Please go out your front door, do not go back into your house. Out onto the sidewalk. Is there a child in the house?"
There was a child in the house. Corals son, Dylan. The tactics employed by Victoria Police were intentionally intimidating, and the presence of a child may have been the deciding factor in keeping police from kicking in the door and firing tear gas grenades. Marc stumbled out onto the sidewalk in the predawn light in his underwear. Coral was still pulling on her shirt as she hurried out with Dylan to stand beside him.
Officers eventually emerged from the darkness with a warrant. Had they daunted the "Prince of Pot" as they had hoped? Not a bit, says Emery. He casually invited them in out of the cold.
"Eight cops sheepishly troop in, because I'm not the least bit disappointed looking and they know this isn't going to be as juicy as they fantasized," said a scornful Emery.
The warrant specified that police were looking for plants, pots, lights, ballasts, capacitor assemblies, fans, blowers, fertilizers, scales, and documentation associated with the production of marijuana.
"This young cop, Constable Colin Brown, is doing his best unthreatening let me explain why were here," recalled Marc. "When, within a few seconds and a cursory look at our very middle class home with no grow op or anything odd, he realizes his fishing expedition has come up empty."
Marc vividly recalls the officers explanation for the raid: "On Wednesday, I was walking by and smelled pot. So we got a warrant to enter your property to look at your electrical meter, which seemed a bit higher than normal. I smelled what now appears to be your dryer exhaust vent, but I thought I detected the smell of pot coming from it when we executed the earlier warrant Saturday."
Search warrants require probable grounds. The "probable grounds" offered by Constable Brown were so unbelievably weak that they cast serious doubt on the already ailing reputation of our justice system, and on the reputation of Justice D Maihara, who signed the warrant.
"Since none of [Constable Browns] assertions turn out to be true, it is obvious that any police officer can get a search warrant by literally lying and making up whatever information they require to get in your house," said Emery. "The terrifying thing is that any pot smoker in Canada could have their homes invaded by big uniformed secret police Nazis because of second hand pot smoke."
Obviously, police have had an axe to grind with Emery since the mid-90's when he opened Hemp BC on Vancouver's Hastings Street, sparking a bong, book and hemp shop revolution across Canada. Since then, Emery has been successful as the publisher of Cannabis Culture Magazine, the mastermind and owner of Pot TV, the founder of the BC Marijuana Party, and the proprietor of Marc Emery's Seeds, a company famous for marketing high-quality genetics.
Since 9-11, activists, medpot clubs and booksellers throughout the US have been targeted and busted by federal agents. Canada is now welcoming US federal intelligence and drug war agencies onto its sovereign territory, including the DEA and FBI, while allocating millions of dollars in extra funding to CSIS. With US President Bush running an ad campaign that blames marijuana smokers for supporting terrorism because they buy pot, it is likely that intelligence operations and busts against marijuana activists, users, traffickers and growers will become more common. The US drug war, brought to you courtesy of global domination, is now available in Canada, and without strong public outcry, it is here to stay!