Free speech in Spain – the Spanish rapper in prison and more

February 23, 2018

Remember Kathy Griffin?

Me neither.

I had to google around to find her name. But anyway, she was the comedian who made headlines last year for a photoshoot with Donald Trump’s decapitated (and fake) head.

She had a day or two in the spotlight, got a call from the Secret Service, and cried like a baby about how Trump’s tweets had “ruined her career”.

‘Cause obviously she was living in some sort of extreme liberal bubble where decapitating the president is “funny”.

Sorry, hon, it’s not.

(Full disclosure: I had never heard of Griffin before that, and only once since, so I’m not sure what kind of damage has legitimately been done…)

But anyway, my thought about the whole thing was – get ready for it…

God bless America

Because in a lot of countries, a stunt like that would get you locked up in a secret prison.

You’d disappear in the middle of the night, and not even your family would be able to find you.

(A few days after it happened, in fact, I met a girl from Thailand who was visiting a friend who was a political exile for belonging to a group that criticized the Thai monarchy. 20 years and counting, she couldn’t go back to her country. For something she did way back at university. Take note, Ms Griffin.)

This week in Spain, free speech has also been an issue.

One of the top stories, in fact, is about a rapper named Voltonyc who’s going to prison for insulting the king – His Serene Majesty King Felipe VI.

And also, apparently, for glorifying terrorism and making threats (all in his songs) to a local politician out in Mallorca.

free speech in spain
One of the lions outside the Spanish parliament in Madrid.

The Supreme Court upheld the sentence, so I guess Voltonyc is shit outta luck. Three and a half years in prison.

Sad but true – in Spain, musicians can be imprisoned for their lyrics.

Free speech in Spain vs free speech in the US

In the US, free speech and freedom of the press are sacred.

The system to protect them is imperfect, but at least it exists. And we (those US-persons among us) should be thankful.

Freedom of speech in Spain is a bit more restrictive.

Some other cases from recent years…

  • Madrid politico Rita Maestre was finally declared not guilty on appeal of “wounding religious sentiments” in the case about her (alleged) topless protest in a church.
  • The singer-songwriter Javier Krahe spent some of the last years of his life fighting a lawsuit from a religious group for the same offense – in Spain, the Catholic church has a lot of power. His case involved a homemade satirical video in which he baked a crucifix on a bed of onions.
  • Twice in the last decade or so, the humor magazine El Jueves has had issues removed from newsstands for depictions of the royal family on their covers.
  • And also this week, a book about drug trafficking in Galicia was removed from shops after the ex-Mayor of the town of O Grove complained that it unfairly links him to the drug trade.

Best not to mess around… Glorification of terrorism is illegal here in Spain, as is insulting its victims.

Insulting the monarchy is out.

Glorification of fascism, on the other hand, is perfectly legal. Funny how that works.

In other news…

Political Prisoners in Contemporary Spain

Another story this week is that a series of photos was taken down from Arco, the contemporary art fair here in Madrid, for portraying Catalonian politicians as “political prisoners”.

The organizers of the fair later apologized, and the work was bought for 80,000 euros by some sort of media baron.

So in the end, I guess the artist, Santiago Sierra, ended up with a sort of victory.

There was no “official” censorship, as far as I know.

But they King was scheduled to show up and open the fair to the public – and there had been reports about the work in the newspapers beforehand.

The Catalonia situation is still touchy, so the “offending” work of art was removed.

The line on free speech has to be drawn somewhere, and I’m no expert in Spanish constitutional law.

But I’d rather artists be free to express themselves, even at the expense of the government or monarchy.

In only slightly related news…

The YouTuber who “cured” her cancer with juice

Another interesting story I read this week is about the YouTuber Mari Lopez, who claimed that lemon juice – in addition to prayer and a raw vegan diet – was going to cure her cancer.

Well, she died. The cancer won.

And her niece (a fellow YouTuber) claims it’s modern medicine’s fault.

She says the lemon juice was working just fine – it’s the chemo that killed her.

Thousands of people were following the “juice and prayer” cure that Lopez proposed. Comments on her videos include glowing reports on the effectiveness of coffee enemas as well.

I personally think the whole thing is sick and wrong. And if I was running YouTube I’d have serious doubts about keeping videos like that available to the public.

But hey, free speech is free speech.

If we prohibit people from disseminating any sort of unscientific bullshit, we can say goodbye to astrology, homeopathy, religious fundamentalism, Flat Earth Theory, and most of what passes for diet advice.

But should we?

Some of the most heretical, offensive and otherwise wrongheaded ideas of the past are now “common knowledge”. (Although it must also be said that a lot of people were persecuted for spreading that knowledge back in the day.)

So where’s the line?

I don’t know.

I’d rather have rappers criticizing the monarchy than people in prison for exercising free speech.

But that’s me.

What do you think?

Hit me up in the comments.

Apologetically yours,

Mr Chorizo AKA Mr Daniel.

P.S. I read the lyrics of Voltonyc’s songs, and agree: they’re pretty offensive. If I was a victim of terrorism and met him walking around, I’d be happy to spit in his eye. But I don’t think he should be in prison. After all, some of the best-known rappers in the US have songs which are largely about cutting their enemies into pieces and dropping them into a lake. Lookin’ at you, DMX. Woof!

P.P.S. Speaking of rappers in prison, a guy named Pablo Hasél actually ended up in prison recently. Not for his lyrics, exactly. And Valtonyc never went to prison… in fact, he fled to Belgium, which is where people tend to go when they need to escape the Spanish courts. See the article about Catalan politicians’ flight to Belgium for more about that.

Related Posts

July 10, 2024

Hey hey! The big story around Barcelona these days: an anti-tourism march Read More

July 1, 2024

Nine years ago I left my job as an English teacher to Read More

June 27, 2024

Let’s talk about ethical non-monogamy in Madrid. (And elsewhere in Spain. Love Read More

About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. He´s still not out of luck. He can still appeal to the Constitutional Court (free speech is a constitutional right) and can also appeal to the Strasbourg court of Human Rights. In fact, the Strasbourg court has already declared guilty to the Spanish state when persecuting insulting the king of Spain: which is contemplated in the Spanish legal system as a crime:

  2. What you’re seeing in the U.S. is not currently a terrific example of of very much and free speech when visible and televised is not yet threatened, but it’s debatable whether it remains free behind the scenes. The despicable individual in the White House threatens most of what the U.S. has always been, and any beacons of light and freedom associated with the U.S. can be held high tenuously, at best.

  3. One of your best articles, Daniel. I came back to read it properly. There are some unsettling things happening all over Spain at the moment. I was interested to ready Miguel’s comments above. It’s always good to get more information. Unfortunately, as Simone says, looking to our own countries as beacons of light – well, not sure about any of that at the moment either. Also the line between free speech and incitement is an interesting debate. Legally, in the UK for example, there is supposed to be a law about inciting racial hatred. Libertarians hate that, but I think it’s fair in a just society.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}