Calls to free puppeteers held over staging satire in Madrid

Two puppeteers detained for allegedly "glorifying terrorism" with a play on words on Eta during a show asked to be freed Monday, as controversy over the case mounted.

Calls to free puppeteers held over staging satire in Madrid
A file photo of puppets. Photo: Leon Neal/AFP

The artists were held after a Friday performance during which they displayed a sign that read “Gora Alka-Eta”, which combines the “Gora Eta (Long Live Eta)” chant of the banned Basque separatist group with the made-up word alka, to create a slogan that sounds like “Long Live Al-Qaeda”.

In addition judicial sources said other scenes from the puppet show held during carnival festivities in Madrid featured the rape of a nun and a judge being hanged, shocking parents who had accompanied their children.

AVT, a Spanish support group for terrorism victims, filed a complaint Monday against Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena, the two artists from the “Puppets from Below” company and another city hall official who deals with culture.   

In a statement, AVT said the scenes were “a clear and serious offence to the memory of terrorism victims, an act of humiliation and contempt in which the use of violence is trivialised.”

It added that the show also implied “praise and recognition of terrorist organisations that have caused such hurt and suffering in our society.”

The Eta group claimed responsibility for the deaths of over 800 people over 40 years, but renounced violence in its struggle for independence four years ago.

Al-Qaeda-inspired bombers blew up four packed commuter trains in Madrid in 2004, killing 191 people.

A judge from Spain's National Court, which handles terror-related cases, on Saturday accused the puppeteers of “glorifying terrorism” and they were remanded in custody.

On Monday, they both filed a request to be freed, a judicial source who declined to be named told AFP.   

Their detention has outraged many in Spain who say it infringes on freedom of expression.

“Are we aware that right now there are two people in prison for having performed a play? Really terrifying,” tweeted Alberto Garzon, head of the far-left United Left coalition. 




Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau tweeted: “It may have been of bad taste, but it was not an offence.” Carmena apologised over the show.

But she told reporters: “There is some incomprehension as to why measures were taken against these theatre actors and puppeteers which are of surprising gravity.”

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Three suspected jihadists held in Barcelona

A court in Spain on Monday remanded in custody three suspected members of Islamic State arrested last week in Barcelona, including an Algerian man who had fought for the Islamist group in Iraq.

Three suspected jihadists held in Barcelona
Archive photo of a suspected jihadist arrested near Barcelona. Photo: AFP

Spanish authorities began their investigation after becoming aware just before Christmas that the “potentially dangerous” Algerian man was in Spain, police said in a statement.   

The man, a “jihadist” who had fought for the Islamic State group in Iraq, was arrested at a building occupied by squatters in Barcelona's seaside neighbourhood of Barceloneta, the statement added.

Police detained two other Algerian men as part of the operation, one suspected of giving him “logistical support” in Spain and another described by police as has “acolyte”.

The operation was carried out in cooperation with European Union law enforcement agency Europol and the FBI, as well as the intelligence services of Spain and Algeria, the statement said.

The three men appeared before a court on Monday where the presiding judge ordered they be remanded in custody on suspicion of membership in a terrorist organisation.

Their arrest comes as the trial of three men accused of helping the jihadists behind the August 2017 attacks in Barcelona and a nearby town that killed 16 people is wrapping up at a court near Madrid.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, one of which involved a van ramming people in the centre of Barcelona.   

While none of the three men on trial are charged with direct responsibility, they are in the dock for helping the attackers, who were all shot dead by police.