The freedom of expression – the First Amendment to the United States Constitution – is the right to say or write (or sing) what you like. Within civilized limits perhaps? Here in Spain, we have that freedom; mostly. It was understood that one didn’t insult the Royal Family (‘lèse-majesté’) or champion ETA or other forms of terrorism (even though the ETA is a dead duck these days). It was also understood that one insulted Christianity and Islam at one’s own risk.
So, we have a number of cases recently of people being arrested and either threatened with prison or indeed being condemned for inappropriate songs, posts, tweets and commentary. Some of these are attracting a lot of attention, while the Courts evidently appear to the Public Eye to be dealing leniently with white-collar and political crime.
The gay creature that dressed up as the Virgin Mary and suffers a parody of crucifixion in Las Palmas as part of the carnivales there being a case in point. As The Olive Press says: ‘...The performance, by Borja Casillas (aka Drag Sethlas), has provoked an embittered debate, and at its centre is Bishop Francisco Casas, who accused Casillas of ‘frivolous blasphemy’...’. A proposal to investigate the issue further by the Canaries prosecutor has now been initiated following a complaint by the Christian Lawyers Association, says El Huff Post here. A Canaries imam says ‘I can’t even imagine what would happen if they tried something similar with an image of Mohammed’ (here).
Meanwhile, a bus in Madrid, painted by a far-right Christian group called Hazte Oir, is impounded for advertising anti transsexual propaganda (‘a boy has a penis, a girl has a vulva’).
Meanwhile, others are in deeper water. The current round of arrests began with the titiriteros this time last year, two puppeteers imprisoned for five days for ‘celebrating terrorism’ in what was described by one woman who saw the show in Madrid as ‘rather less violent than Spongebob Squarepants’. They were eventually pardoned. More recently, we have heard of Cesar Strawberry, the punky Marxist singer from Def Con Dos who faces one year of jail-time for his songs.
This week, six ‘Twitterers’ were condemned in court for various improper postings on the Twitter platform. They posted humiliations and pro-terrorist remarks and received anything up to two years each (the normal limit for not actually going to jail for a first offence). Another poster, a girl from Murcia, with her joke about the assassination of Franco’s successor Carrero Blanco, must wait for a new defence lawyer – her previous one was a great supporter of the Caudillo apparently. So much for ‘black humour’, she says. The Mallorquín rapper, Valtonyc, now facing three and a half years for two offensive songs, has one of them on YouTube here. Three hundred thousand people have seen it so far.
A liberal judge says in an interview with El Diario: ‘Our criminal laws are very harsh with conduct linked to freedom of expression, as well as the criminalization of poverty. But they are extremely gentle with political and financial delinquency’. So what to do?
Rather oddly, the Minister for Justice says this week that ‘in Spain, no one is condemned for their songs or their opinions’. He blames the courts.
We are left with only this: should the accent be placed on the content of inappropriate speech – or on a better education for the speaker?