Spain’s counter-terror law crushes satire: Amnesty International

In its latest report, the human rights group is calling for Spain’s “glorification of terrorism” law to be repealed on the grounds that it's silencing creativity and political satire through fear.

Spain’s counter-terror law crushes satire: Amnesty International
Seventy people have been jailed in Spain in the last two years for glorifying terrorism. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP
Spain’s controversial gag law, the same one that has seen everyone from rappers to puppeteers go to jail for “glorifying terrorism”, is having its desired effect, Amnesty International writes in its latest report.
Under Article 578 of the Spanish Criminal Code anyone deemed to have “glorified terrorism” or “humiliated the victims of terrorism or their relatives” faces potential fines, bans from public sector jobs and even prison sentences. 
And the number of convictions has kept rising since the Article was broadened in 2015, going from three convictions in 2011 to 70 in the last two years.
“This has had a profoundly chilling effect,” the report reads, adding that it is creating an environment in which people are increasingly afraid to express alternative views, or make controversial jokes.
Titled “Tweet…if you dare: How counter-terrorism laws restrict freedom of expression in Spain”, the report exposes how many ordinary social media users and creative minds in the country are being silenced through fear.
It highlights also how the vast majority of the cases presented before a court relate to disbanded domestic armed groups ETA and GRAPO, even though the 2015 tightening of the law was introduced under the pretext of the perceived international threat from active terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda or ISIS. 
“Rapping is not a crime, tweeting a joke is not terrorism and holding a puppet show should not land you in jail,” Eda Seyhan of Amnesty International is quoted as saying in the report. 
“Spain is emblematic of a disturbing trend which has seen states across Europe unduly restrict expression on the pretext of national security and stripping away rights under the guise of defending them.”
The charity’s report acknowledges that the threat of terror is real and that restricting freedom of expression in certain instances can help protect national security, but argues nonetheless that the broad and vague nature of the law is stifling artistic expression. 
“The objective is to create a climate of self-censorship in the population. And they succeeded with me,” Amnesty International quoted an anonymous source who had been imprisoned for his tweets.


Police arrest rapper holed up in Catalan university to avoid jail for tweets

Spanish police on Tuesday arrested a rapper who barricaded himself inside a university after he was controversially sentenced to nine months in jail over a string of tweets, television images showed.

Police arrest rapper holed up in Catalan university to avoid jail for tweets
Photos: AFP

Pablo Hasel had been given until Friday night to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence after being convicted for glorifying terrorism, slander and libel against the crown and state institutions.   

At issue was a series of tweets attacking the monarchy and accusing police of torturing and killing demonstrators and migrants, with his case sparking protests in Madrid and Barcelona.

But Hasel on Monday barricaded himself inside the University of Lleida, in the northeastern Catalonia region, with dozens of supporters to avoid arrest.   

Spanish television showed images of him being escorted out by police at the university on Tuesday.

“They will never make us give in, despite the repression,” Hasel said, his fist raised.

 A Catalan police spokesman told AFP that officers entered the university early Tuesday “to enforce the judicial ruling” on his arrest.   

They began by removing his supporters one by one despite barricades that had been set up to block police.

Hundreds of artists have signed a petition demanding Hasel's release, including film director Pedro Almodovar, Hollywood actor Javier Bardem and folk singer Joan Manuel Serrat.   

Hasel said on Twitter Monday: “I'm locked inside the University of Lleida with quite a few supporters so they'll have to break in if they want to arrest me and put me in prison.”


Last week, Spain's government pledged to reduce the penalty for “crimes of expression” such as the glorification of terrorism, hate speech, insults to the crown and offences against religious sensibilities, in the context of artistic, cultural or intellectual activities.   

The case echoes that of another rapper called Valtonyc who fled to Belgium in 2018 after being convicted of similar crimes.   

Spain is trying to have him extradited but Belgium has refused on grounds that his offences are not a crime under Belgian law.