Spanish Hate/Anti-Terrorism Speech Laws Doing Little But Locking Up Comedians, Artists, And Dissidents
from the it-will-get-a-whole-lot-worse-before-it-gets-even-worse dept
As Spain continues to expand its (anti-)speech laws, the rights of its citizens continue to contract. Not content with making it illegal to insult a cop or government officials, the Spanish government has decided to tackle hate speech and terrorism with the same ineptitude.
There’s no punchline here. People are being arrested and charged with speech having nothing to with promoting hate or terrorism. And this is in addition to people who’ve found themselves targeted by vindictive public servants for daring to publicly criticize their words or actions.
It’s gotten so bad Amnesty International — an entity that usually spends its time decrying the acts of dictators and brutal authoritarians — has felt compelled to speak up about Spain’s terrible speech laws. Mathew Ingram has more details at Columbia Journalism Review.
In a new report on the phenomenon, entitled “Tweet… If You Dare,” Amnesty International looks at the rise in prosecutions under Article 578 of the country’s criminal code, which prohibits “glorifying terrorism” and “humiliating the victims of terrorism.” The law has been around since 2000, but was amended in 2015 and since then prosecutions and convictions have risen sharply.
So, who’s been doing all this glorifying and humiliating? Well, it’s not supporters of terrorism. Instead, it’s musicians, artists, people telling jokes — pretty much everybody but actual terrorists or proponents of hate.
Among those who have been hit by the law are a musician who tweeted a joke about sending the king a cake-bomb for his birthday and was sentenced to a year in prison, and a rapper who was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail for writing songs that the government said glorified terrorism and insulted the crown. A filmmaker and a journalist have also been charged under the anti-terrorism law, and a student who tweeted jokes about the assassination of the Spanish prime minister in 1973 was also sentenced to a year in prison, although her sentence was suspended after a public outcry.
Don’t read too much into the into the post-outcry suspended sentence. Spain’s government is still busy ensuring satire, commentary, and anything else that might wander into the territory of offensive remains a criminal offense. Anything that has been walked back has been the result of public outcry. Amnesty National’s report “Tweet… if you dare” [PDF] notes hate speech and anti-terrorism speech law violations have resulted in 70 convictions over the past two years.
The student, (Cassandra Vera) who was arrested and sentenced for joking about a 45-year-old assassination, notes the government is still involved in acts of censorship that would be ridiculous if they weren’t backed by threats of jail time.
Vera expressed similar views after her sentence was overturned. She pointed to the recent censorship of a work at a Madrid art fair and the seizure, on a judge’s orders, of Fariña, a book about drug-trafficking in Galicia, as proof that something was seriously wrong with free speech in Spain.
“People shouldn’t have to be afraid of expressing their opinions,” she told the Guardian. “What happened with Valtonyc and Fariña and the art exhibition showed that freedom of expression is under serious attack. I think freedom of expression has been dealt an almost fatal blow in Spain.”
Amnesty International is demanding the law be repealed. It has done little to deter acts of terrorism or successfully counter hate speech. Instead, it has been used to target dissidents, activists, and others who criticize the government. Whatever terrorism happens to be addressed under the law apparently only considers certain acts by domestic terrorists to be worthy of enforcement. Content and communications glorifying foreign terrorist groups is usually ignored by the government. As its report points out, the speech laws enacted by the Spanish government violate the rights of its citizens.
By using these laws to criminalize lawful expression, the Spanish authorities are disregarding international human rights law and standards. The impact of Article 578 is devastating to individuals – ranging from hefty fines, to lengthy periods of exclusion from the public sector, to prison sentences.
But even beyond these sanctions, such misuse of counter-terrorism provisions leads people to engage in self-censorship for fear that they may be targeted. The criminalization of such a wide range of expression has a general chilling effect and can create an environment where individuals are afraid of expressing unpopular views, or even making controversial jokes.
The report also notes several other European countries are also beginning to curtail the rights of their citizens in their quest to target hate speech and international terrorism. Germany’s hate speech law roll out has been an unmitigated disaster and other countries like France and Italy seem all too willing to join Spain and Germany in killing satire, parody, and content they just don’t agree with. All of this is being done under the heading of “public safety,” but in reality, the public is no safer and will develop an unhealthy fear of their own governments.