KINGDOM OF SPAIN: Counter-terror law used to crush satire and creative expression online

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22 Mar 2018
[International Secretariat]

A new report from Amnesty International reveals that scores of ordinary social media users as well as musicians, journalists and even puppeteers have been prosecuted on grounds of national security. This has had a profoundly chilling effect, creating an environment in which people are increasingly afraid to express alternative views, or make controversial jokes.

Sending rappers to jail for song lyrics and outlawing political satire demonstrates how narrow the boundaries of acceptable online speech have become in Spain,” said Esteban Beltrán, Director of Amnesty International Spain.

Under Article 578 of the Spanish Criminal Code those deemed to have “glorified terrorism” or “humiliated the victims of terrorism or their relatives” face fines, bans from jobs in the public sector and even prison sentences. The number of people charged under this Article increased from three in 2011 to 39 in 2017 and nearly 70 people were convicted in the last two years alone.

Whilst the threat of terror is very real and protecting national security can in certain instances be legitimate grounds for restricting freedom of expression, Spain’s broad and vague law is stifling artistic expression. In December twelve rappers from the collective “La Insurgencia” were fined, sentenced to more than two years in prison each, and banned from working in the public sector for lyrics deemed to “glorify” an armed group. They are appealing the sentence but they are just some of many artists who have been prosecuted under the law.

Even journalists attempting to document the crackdown under Article 578 have fallen foul of its provisions with one filmmaker being prosecuted for a film he made in which he interviewed several people who had themselves been prosecuted on charges of “glorifying terrorism”.

While Article 578 was broadened in 2015 in response to the Paris attacks and the perceived threat of international terrorism, the vast majority of the cases brought under the law relate to disbanded or inactive domestic armed groups. An EU Directive on combating terrorism, which problematically includes “glorification” as an example of expression that may be criminalised, is due to be implemented across Europe by September 2018. The lesson from Spain must be that vaguely defined offences such as “glorification of terrorism” and “humiliation” of its victims seriously endanger the right to freedom of expression.

“Spain is emblematic of a disturbing trend which has seen states across Europe unduly restricting expression on the pretext of national security and stripping away rights under the guise of defending them,” said Eda Seyhan, Amnesty’s Campaigner on Counter-Terrorism.

“Rapping is not a crime, tweeting a joke is not terrorism and holding a puppet show should not land you in jail. Governments should uphold the rights of victims of terrorism, rather than stifling free speech in their name. Spain’s draconian law must be repealed and all charges brought against anyone solely for peacefully expressing themselves must be dropped.”

13 March 2018

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