Spain drops probe into ex-military WhatsApp ‘kill squad’

Spanish prosecutors have dropped an investigation into messages posted in a WhatsApp group of retired military officers that denounced Spain's left-wing government and discussed shooting political adversaries.

Spain drops probe into ex-military WhatsApp 'kill squad'

The group was made up of high-ranking retired members of the air force with some of the messages leaked in December to the Infolibre news website, sparking public outrage.

The messages focused on the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose Socialists rule alongside the hard-left Podemos in Spain’s first coalition government since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

“I don’t want these scoundrels to lose the elections. No. I want them and all of their offspring to die,” wrote one.

“For them to die, they must be shot and 26 million bullets are needed,” wrote another, referring to the number of people who cast their ballots in favour.

Prosecutors opened their investigation in mid-December after finding the statements were “totally contrary to the constitutional order with veiled references to a military coup”.

But they dropped the probe after concluding the content of the chat did not constitute a hate crime by virtue of the fact it was a private communication.

“Its members ‘freely’ expressed their opinions to the others ‘being confident they were among friends’ without the desire to share the views elsewhere,” the Madrid prosecutors office said.

The remarks constituted “harsh” criticism that fell “within the framework of freedom of expression and opinion,” it said.

The decision is likely to inflame protests that erupted in mid-February over the jailing of a Spanish rapper for tweets found to be glorifying terrorism, a case that has raised concerns over freedom of speech in Spain.

According to Infolibre, some of the chat group also signed a letter by more than 70 former officers blaming the Sanchez government for the “breakdown of national unity” that was sent to Spain’s King Felipe VI in November.

Such remarks echo criticism voiced by Spain’s rightwing and far-right opposition that has denounced the government for courting separatist parties in order to push legislation through parliament where it only holds a minority.

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Spain passes contested education bill

Spain's upper house of parliament approved on Wednesday December 23rd, a controversial education reform bill which removes a stipulation that Spanish must be the main language in classrooms across the nation.

Spain passes contested education bill
Image: klimkin/Pixabay

The measure was included in the bill at the request of Catalan separatist party ERC, whose support is needed by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's minority government to pass legislation at national level.

The ERC helped approve Sanchez's 2021 budget on Tuesday in the Senate, prompting accusations from the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) that Sanchez was now “paying the price” with the education law reform.

“The price is throwing Spanish out the window of classroom in Catalonia forever,” the party's spokesman in the senate, Javier Maroto, said ahead of the vote.

Spain's regional languages were suppressed under the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Francisco Franco and the issue remains hugely sensitive – particularly in Catalonia, a northeastern region home to some 7.5 million people.

After Spain returned to democracy following Franco's death in 1975, education became the responsibility of its regions – including those like Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country that have their own languages, with equal status under the law.

As a result, in wealthy Catalonia classes in public schools have for decades been taught in Catalan, with only two hours a week in most cases set aside to learn Spanish.

A previous PP government tried to change this by reforming Spain's education law in 2013 to include a reference that Spanish is the language of instruction of the nation's schools. But in practice the reference was ignored and classes continued to be delivered mainly in Catalan in the region.

The Catalan nationalists who govern the region argue this policy is needed to protect the language and say that, even four decades after Franco, it remains vulnerable.

Sanchez has defended the bill, saying it reflected Spain's “linguistic plurality” which he said was a “huge asset to society as a whole”.

Image: jairojehuel/Pixabay 

Car protests 

The reform of the education law which was approved by the lower house of parliament last month also downgrades religious teaching and restricts state funding for Catholic charter schools.

It has sparked a backlash from some parents in Catalonia who fear their children's command of Spanish, one of the world's most widely spoken languages, will not be as strong as long as they are schooled mostly in Catalan.

Conservative parties have warned that the reform threatens national unity in a country that is still grappling with the fallout from Catalonia's failed 2017 bid to break away from Spain as it will encourage the development of a regional identity.

Waving flags from cars and honking horns, thousands of people protested in Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga and other cities on Sunday against the reform, dubbed the Celaa law after Education Minister Isabel Celaa. Similar demonstrations were held last month.

“It is not a law against anyone, as will be seen in the future,” Celaa said after the law was passed.

The protests were backed by the PP, far-right party Vox and centre-right Ciudadanos, who have all vowed to challenge the law in Spain's Constitutional Court.

Speaking to reporters at the protest in Barcelona on Sunday, the leader of Ciudadanos in Catalonia, Carlos Carrizosa, called the law “abusive”. “Spanish speaking students cannot study their first words in their maternal language,” he told reporters at the protest in Barcelona on Sunday.