MADRID – Spain’s Supreme Court confirmed on Tuesday a prison sentence of three and a half years for a rapper for insulting and slandering the Crown, exalting terrorism and making threats in his songs.
The tribunal thus ratified the ruling made by the national court in February 2017, in which Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran, known by the stage name “Valtonyc,” was found guilty of the speech crimes and handed down the prison sentence.
“The Supreme Court’s sentence is out. Three years and six months in jail because of my songs. I will have to enter prison. As soon as I have more information, I’ll say more,” Arenas said on his Twitter account after learning of the decision.
The judges rejected the arguments made by Arenas’ attorneys, who invoked their client’s freedom of expression and of art while contending that rap often makes use of extreme, provocative, allegorical and symbolic language.
One of the main focuses of the case involved controversial lyrics criticizing the Spanish monarchy, including verses such as “The Bourbons are thieves.”
The House of Bourbon is the name of the originally-French royal dynasty that has ruled Spain since the early 18th century.
Current King Felipe VI and his father, the former monarch Juan Carlos I – who was designated by military dictator Francisco Franco as his successor as head of the Spanish state –, are members of that royal house and are legally protected against insults and slander by their subjects.
The Supreme Court also found that Arenas had praised two terror groups – the violent Basque separatists ETA and the defunct October First Antifascist Resistance Group (GRAPO) – in his songs, thus incurring in the exaltation of terrorism, which constitutes a punishable felony in the Spanish criminal code.
In addition, the magistrates said that Arenas’ songs, which were published online, included threats against the king and the royal family, as well as against Jorge Campos, the leader of an anti-Catalan language lobby in the Catalan-speaking Balearic Islands region.
“The aforementioned contents are not protected under the right to freedom of expression and broadcast as put forth by the defendant and his counsel,” read the court’s verdict.
The case came amid a growing wave of trials against entertainers, Twitter users, protesters and street performers for crimes related to free speech in Spain.
In 2016, two street puppeteers were tried for exalting terrorism and spent five days in jail after one of the puppets in their show held up a sign with a pun referencing ETA and al-Qaeda, although they were ultimately exonerated of the charge.
In March 2017, a 21-year-old college student was sentenced to a year in prison and barred from becoming a public school teacher, her lifelong dream, for “humiliating the victims of terrorism” in 13 tweets in which she joked about the 1973 assassination of Franco’s prime minister, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, who was killed in an ETA bombing.
In November, a trial was launched against 13 rappers belonging to a musical collective known as “The Insurgency” who stand accused of exalting the GRAPO; the suit remains ongoing.
Communist rapper Pablo Rivadulla, known as “Pablo Hasel,” was currently being tried for controversial lyrics and tweets suggesting that Juan Carlos I used taxpayer money to pay for parties and mistresses, that the killing of 15 migrants by members of the Civil Guard police force had been met with impunity and that the GRAPO were a “model of resistance.”
On Feb. 8, a 24-year-old was fined 480 euros ($592) for posting a photo montage on Instagram in which he had superimposed his own face on a wooden statue of Jesus Christ.
Spanish blasphemy law penalizes offenses against religious sentiments.
Human rights group Amnesty International said in a recent report that Spain needed to revise or repeal some of its legislation, such as the 2015 citizen security law – popularly known as the “Gag Law” – which severely restricted public protests and banned the dissemination of images of police officers, among other measures.
AI added that the charge of exalting terrorism was being abused to prosecute people peacefully exercising their right to express themselves and that a vague definition of “terrorism” was being wielded to disproportionally limit citizens’ free speech.