A drag queen in the Philippines has been arrested after their recital of the Lord’s Prayer dressed in an outfit resembling Jesus Christ triggered outrage in the mostly Catholic country.
Amadeus Fernando Pagente, who performs as Pura Luka Vega, was arrested on Wednesday in relation to their June performance during Pride in Manila of Ama Namin, a punk rock version of the Lord’s Prayer.
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The video later went viral and was condemned by a number of prominent religious figures as well as lawmakers. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines called the performance “blasphemous” and disrespectful to the church.
The Philippines for Jesus Movement and some other Christian groups, meanwhile, filed a criminal complaint, and the performer was declared ‘persona non grata’ in 17 parts of the country including Manila and the southern city of Cebu.
Vega, 33, was charged with breaching a law that prohibits “indecent or immoral plays, scenes, acts or shows” that “offend any race or religion”. The charges carry a jail term of up to 12 years, as well as potential fines.
“Vega’s performance may offend some, but it is protected expression under international human rights law,” Ryan Thoreson, a specialist in Human Rights Watch’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program, said in a statement. “Freedom of expression includes artistic expression that offends, satirises or challenges religious beliefs.”
Amid the outcry over the video in July, Vega defended themselves on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying the performance was their way of praising God.
“I understand that people call my performance blasphemous, offensive or regrettable,” Vega wrote. “However, they shouldn’t tell me how I practice my faith or how I do my drag. That performance was not for you to begin with. It is my experience and my expression, of having been denied my rights.”
Speaking to the AFP news agency following their detention, Vega said they had “done nothing wrong” and that their arrest highlighted “the degree of homophobia” in the Philippines.
Thoreson said the charges should be dropped and Vega released.
After Vega’s arrest, the hashtag #FreePuraLukaVega became the top trending topic on X in the Philippines.
Nearly 80 percent of the Philippines’ population is Catholic and the country remains deeply conservative with divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage all banned.