By Karolina Tagaris
ATHENS (Reuters) - Actors and the producer and director of an American play in Greece that depicted Jesus Christ and his apostles as gay have been charged with blasphemy, court officials said on Friday.
A production of "Corpus Christi" in Athens was canceled this month after weeks of almost daily 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" have been filed after Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus lodged a lawsuit against those involved in the play, the officials said.
The play's director told Reuters he was stunned that prosecutors had chosen to go after him rather than pursue tax evaders and others blamed for driving Greece to near-bankruptcy.
"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 Laertis Vasiliou said.
If found guilty, Vasiliou and the other defendants could face several months in prison. A trial date has not been set yet.
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.
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 primetime 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.
In the latest case that has provoked outrage, a prominent Greek journalist who was acquitted of breaking privacy data will face retrial, court officials said on Monday.
Dozens of demonstrators, including some from Golden Dawn, blocked the entrance of the theatre and clashed with police on the night of the play's premiere last month.
Bearded black-robed priests holding crosses were shown on television tearing up posters promoting the play. A powerful institution, the Orthodox Church plays an influential role in Greek society.
The prosecutor's decision to press charges against Corpus Christi was condemned by anti-fascism groups who said political instability in the country was pushing the conservative-led coalition to turn to the far right for support.
"It's the bullies and the neo-Nazis clashing outside the theatre who should be put on the stand and not the actors," said Petros Constantinou, head of the United Against Racism and Fascist Violence Movement.
Describing the decision as a "glorification of the Dark Ages", he said: "The government is panicking and it's looking to the far-right for crutches."
Golden Dawn, which entered parliament this year for the first time, has been increasingly flexing its muscle and polls show its hard line against immigrants and corrupt politicians is boosting its popularity.
Still, one pollster said the case was more reflective of Greek attitudes on social issues rather than politics.
"It more likely has to do with how deeply conservative Greek society is," said Thomas Gerakis, head of polling agency Marc.
(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Louise Ireland)