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Belgium refuses extradition of fugitive Spanish rapper

A court in Belgium on Tuesday rejected a request by Spanish authorities to extradite a fugitive rapper sentenced to jail for allegedly praising terrorism in his songs.

Belgium refuses extradition of fugitive Spanish rapper
"Valtonyc" poses for pictures as he leaves the court in Ghent where judges rejected a request by Spanish authorities to extradite him. Photo:

Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran — better known as “Valtonyc” — fled to Belgium in 2018 after being handed a three-and-a-half year jail term on charges of glorifying terror, insulting the king and making threats in his lyrics.

“Victory! After three years of legal procedures, a detour to the European Court of Justice and to the Belgian Constitutional Court, the Court of Appeal rules that Valtonyc cannot be extradited,” the rapper’s lawyer Simon Bekaert wrote on Twitter.

“A good day for music and freedom of expression.”

Bekaert said the appeals court in the city of Ghent had ruled that the offences were not a crime under Belgian law.

The rapper, 28, said he was “finally free and happy” after having been subject to regular police checks as he battled against a European arrest warrant.

“I’m not a terrorist and the court has proved me right,” he said.

Beltran was sentenced for lyrics in songs published online in 2012 and 2013 at a time when he was a little-known rapper in the Balearic Islands.

These included: “Let them be as frightened as a police officer in the Basque Country” and “the king has a rendezvous at the village square, with a noose around his neck.”

The reference to the Basque Country was understood as a nod to violence by ETA, the separatist group that for decades staged attacks across Spain that left more than 800 officials and civilians dead.

His lyrics divided opinion in Spain, with some saying they would not land him in jail in any other democracy, while others stress that free speech has its limits.

The case is one of a number that has sparked pressure on the Spanish authorities to ease harsh punishments for alleged “crimes of expression”.

Protestors clashed with police in Spain in February over a jail term handed out to another rapper Pablo Hasel for tweets insulting police and the monarchy.

Belgium is also at the centre of another high-profile extradition case involving the Spanish authorities over fugitive Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont.

Puigdemont has been living in Belgium since 2017, after fleeing Spain to avoid prosecution over a failed Catalan bid to declare independence.

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CRIME

Spain police start wearing bodycams to boost security

Spanish police have begun wearing body cameras to record their interactions with the public in a move aimed at ensuring greater security that is gaining ground in Europe and the US.

Spain police start wearing bodycams to boost security

The interior ministry said the bodycam was launched Monday and would be “rolled out on a gradual basis to all police officers”, without saying how many were involved in the initial stages.

Spain’s TVE public television said the tiny cameras were being attached to the officers’ uniforms and could be activated either manually or automatically.

The main Spanish police union JUPOL hailed the move on Twitter, saying it was in response to “a request that the union has been making”.

“It will guarantee security, both for us to avoid any kind of misrepresentation of our interventions, as well as for the public, who will be able to clearly see the police’s professionalism and that there is no abuse of power nor excesses,” union spokesman Pablo P√©rez told TVE.

Forces in Europe and the United States are increasingly turning to such technology to boost transparency following a string of fatal shootings and other claims against police over the past decade.

“The cameras are being used under public safety protocols in order to record everything that happens in the event of an unwarranted offence during an operation,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska told TVE ahead of the rollout.

“If they are activated, it is to guarantee security and really be transparent so that the officers’ actions can be seen and checked,” the minister said.

“This means security for both the police and the public,” he added, suggesting that in time, they would also be available to Spain’s Guardia Civil rural police force.

France began trialling bodycams, known as “pedestrian cameras”, in 2013
before a gradual rollout in 2015 in a move welcomed by police, but greeted with scepticism by rights groups who said there was no guarantee they would be always activated.

Police in London and New York also began pilot schemes in 2014 with credit-card-sized cameras clipped onto their uniforms with the technology gradually deployed over the following years.

But the cameras have had mixed success. The absence of any legal obligation governing their use can also limit their scope to uncover police misconduct.

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