Philippines drag queen faces 12 years in jail for performing Lord’s Prayer dressed as Jesus

Drag artist Pura Luka Vega remains behind bars after being arrested in the Philippines.

A Philippines drag queen is facing a 12-year jail sentence after their performance as Jesus Christ reciting the Lord’s Prayer sparked outrage in the country. 

Drag queen Pura Luka Vega, whose real name is Amadeus Fernando Pagente, was arrested on Wednesday (4 October). 

The 33-year-old, who uses drag to champion free speech, was charged under article 201 of the southeast Asian country’s criminal code, which prohibits “indecent or immoral plays, scenes, acts or shows” that “offend any race or religion”.

Vega, whose political performances have resulted in them being declared an “unwelcome person” by several cities in the country, now faces fines and up to 12 years in jail if convicted, as reported by the BBC.

Backlash began when a video, which has since been deleted, of Vega dressed as Jesus Christ, performing to “Ama Namin”, a rock version of the Lord’s Prayer, was posted online.

Complaints were made by a religious group in July to the Manila Prosecutor’s Office. 

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The Philippines is a staunchly Christian country, with more than 86 per cent of the population identifying as Roman Catholic, according to non-profit group the Asia Society. 

Vega’s performance first received a complaint from the Protestant church leaders’ group For Jesus Movement at the end of July, followed by a second complaint in August from the Catholic group Nazarene Brotherhood. 

‘Religious beliefs cannot be misused to deny others their human right to free expression’

The drag queen told AFP that the arrest shows “the degree of homophobia” in the Philippines.

“I understand that people call my performance blasphemous, offensive, or regrettable. However, they shouldn’t tell me how I practice my faith or how I do my drag,” Vega said.

On X, formerly Twitter, the hashtag #freepuralukavega is being shared by those calling for Vega’s release, with many writing that “drag is not a crime”. 

Human Rights Watch has also called for the release of Vega, arguing that the charges violate free expression rights. 

“Vega’s performance may offend some, but it is protected expression under international human rights law.

“Freedom of expression includes artistic expression that offends, satirises, or challenges religious beliefs.

“Vega should be released from custody and the charges dropped. To prevent future censorship of controversial viewpoints, lawmakers in the Philippines should amend or eliminate article 201 to ensure that religious beliefs cannot be misused to deny others their human right to free expression,” the international NGO argues.

A fundraiser titled “drag is not a crime” has was shared on Vega’s instagram page on Thursday (5 October).