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Iceland's Pirate Party Wins Repeal Of Blasphemy Law

Iceland's minority Pirate Party has its first major legislative victory — repealing a 75-year-old blasphemy law that made it a crime to "ridicule or insult" the teachings of a legally recognized religious community.

The law, established in 1940, came under fire after the Jan. 7 attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris that killed the newspaper's editor and 11 others after they published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The repeal, passed in Iceland's parliament, said it is "essential in a free society that the public express themselves without fear of punishment." Anyone found violating the blasphemy law had been subject to a fine and three months in prison.

While the vote was underway Thursday, all three members of the Pirate Party stood before parliament, known as the Althing, and declared "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie") in solidarity with the French satirical publication.

In a statement after the vote, the party praised parliament for issuing "the important message that freedom will not bow to bloody attacks."

The BBC reports that the Catholic Church of Iceland, the Pentecostal Church and the Church of Iceland's eastern province all opposed repealing the blasphemy law.

The Catholic Church wrote in a statement after the successful repeal: "Should freedom of expression go so far as to mean that the identity of a person of faith can be freely insulted, then personal freedom — as individuals or groups — is undermined."

As Iceland Magazine wrote last month, support for the Pirate Party is soaring. According to a recent Gallup poll, 34.1 percent of the country said it stands behind the insurgent political movement that received just 5.1 percent of the vote in 2013.

In an interview last month, Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson warned of the Pirate Party's growing popularity, accusing its members of "some very unclear ideas about democracy" and saying its rise "would be cause for concern for society as a whole."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.