Spain: Rapper appeals three-and-a-half-year prison sentence over lyrics


Spanish rapper Valtonyc (real name Miquel Arenas Beltrán) and his lawyer confirmed they presented an appeal to the Spanish Supreme Court to repeal his three-year-and-six-month prison sentence on various charges related to his lyrics, reported Europa Press on 9 March 2017.

The Spanish National Court, a High State Court directly under the Supreme Court that notoriously deals with cases of terrorism, sentenced the rapper on 22 February 2017 for “grave insults to the Crown”, “glorification of terrorism and humiliation of its victims” and “threats” in his songs.

In addition to the prison term, the rapper was fined 3,000 Euros (approx. USD $3,200) and will be barred from holding public office for eight years.

The National Court reviewed songs Valtonyc posted on YouTube, MySpace and hip hop music portal HHGroups and argued that the rapper gravely insulted and directly threatened politicians, prominent public figures and most of the Royal family members in the lyrics of those songs.


Case started in 2012 over threats
Jorge Campos Asensi, President of nationalist foundation Círculo Balear, started the case against the rapper in 2012. He reported Valtonyc due to a song, ‘Circo Balear’, as he considered it a direct threat to him and other members of his foundation.

Once the case was investigated, however, the public prosecutor discovered a number of additional violations and instituted all the other charges against the rapper.

Campos Asensi later offered to drop the charges if Valtonyc issued a public apology; a proposition which the rapper declined because he pleaded innocent.

The charges brought up by Campos Asensi were eventually dismissed, but the new charges brought up by the public prosecutor stood and the case went to the National Court. However, as part of the sentence, the 3,000 Euro fine is to be paid to Campos Asensi as compensation for the threats.

In an article published by MallorcaDiario.com on 9 February 2017, Campos Asensi wrote: “They claim ‘artistic’ freedom of expression, forgetting that it has its limits, [which are] totally bypassed when one incurs glorification of terrorism, humiliation to its victims, grave insults to the Crown and death threats.”

Juan Manuel Olarieta, the rapper’s lawyer, said they are ready to take the matter to the Constitutional Court and to the European Human Rights Court.

“Words cannot commit crimes – they can seem uneducated, rude, foul and objectionable, but three years of prison cannot be imposed for vulgarity,” he stated.


Recent changes in law disproportionately affect rappers
This is not the first case of this nature in Spain. Since the 2015 legislative amendments to the Law on Public Security and Criminal Law, which sparked international outcry and were condemned by many political parties, human rights groups and international institutions, Spain has seen a sharp increase in the number of trials related to “glorification of terrorism” and “humiliation of terrorist victims”, among similar offences.

These amendments have, in turn, led to a significantly weaker right to freedom of expression, reported Amnesty International in its 2016/17 annual report on the state of the world’s human rights.

One of the main Spanish political parties, Podemos, presented a proposition in Congress to modify the Criminal Code in order to remove the charge of “glorification of terrorism” from the code, reported 20Minutos on 27 March 2017.

Podemos Secretary General Pablo Iglesias stated:

“We propose that our country rises to the challenges of what the 21st century means, and that it does not go back to the worst of the 20th century.It is completely inadequate and says bad things about our democratic quality that at this moment the National Court is trying more people for glorifying terrorism than when ETA was acting and committing terrorist attacks.”

Among artists, the toll has been particularly high on rappers. Here are some of the cases that have been recently tried or are still being processed:

  • Colectivo La Insurgencia: A group of rappers, 13 of whom are Spanish residents, who shared a YouTube channel. All have been charged over their songs which allegedly “insult State institutions” and “glorify terrorism”, and the members have allegedly formed an “illegal association” and “encouraged hate”. The charges were presented on 17 November 2016 and the group now awaits trial. The public prosecutor is demanding two-year-and-one-day prison sentences, nine years of inability to hold public office, a fine of 4,800 Euros (approx. USD $5,150) and the obligation to remove their songs from the Internet.
  • Siker: A Spanish rapper who, due to his songs, was charged on 6 March 2017 at the National Court. He is accused of the same crimes as Colectivo La Insurgencia and faces the same punishment.
  • Pablo Hasél and Cyniko: The rappers, who form the rap group ‘Prozaks’, were sued by the mayor of Lleida for attacking him in their lyrics. The prosecutor demanded a one-year-three-month prison sentence or a fine of 1,800 Euros (approx. USD $1,930) each. They were finally sentenced with a fine of 500 Euros (approx. USD $540) each in February 2017. However, Pablo Hasél had already been sentenced in 2014 to two years in prison on charges of glorifying terrorism – something that was confirmed in the appeal to the Supreme Court. He did not go to prison at the time due to not having a criminal record. However, now he has two new cases pending, one for “insulting the Crown” and “promoting hatred” in a series of tweets, and another one on charges of “insulting the Crown” in his lyrics, for which he was charged in January 2017. The public prosecutor is seeking a five-year prison term, which would be added to the unfulfilled two years for the rapper.
  • Alfonso Lázaro de la Fuente and Raúl García: Two puppeteers from the company ‘Títeres desde abajo’ who were arrested in February 2016 after they displayed a poster in one of their shows. Spanish authorities interpreted this as a message of support to terrorist group ETA and tried the puppeteers on charges of “glorifying terrorism” and “breaching fundamental rights”. They were sentenced to unconditional prison time until the trial due to the risk of them fleeing the country, but after five days in prison the prosecutor decided to set them free and seized all of their artistic belongings and passports, as well as requiring to report to court every day. In June 2016 the charge for “glorifying terrorism” was dropped, but the one for “breaching fundamental rights” remained until January 2017 when it also was dropped.
  • Volk Gz: A Spanish rapper who, due to a song he released in 2014, which was censored on YouTube in 2015, stood trial in 2016. The prosecution asked for a two-year-five-month prison term for “threats”. He was finally sentenced in November 2016 with a fine of 120 Euros (approx. USD $130).
  • Ayax and Prok: Two Spanish rappers who released a music video in which one of the scenes displayed a policeman’s “recognisable” face, leading them to be accused of “filming an agent in hours of service” and for “insulting the police corps”. They are currently awaiting trial and face a fine of up to 30,000 Euros (approx. USD $32,200) or time in prison if they are unable to pay.



Photo: Valtonyc/Twitter


Sources

» 27 March 2017 – 20Minutos
Podemos asks to supress the crime of glorification of terrorism off the Criminal Code

» 9 March 2017 – Europa Press
Valtonyc’s defence presents announcement of the appeal to the Supreme Court and will go to Strasbourg “depending on what happens”

» 22 February 2017 – Europa Press
The National Audience condemns rapper Valtonyc to three-and-a-half years of prison for his songs’ content

» 22 February 2017 – EFE
Rapper Valtonyc condemned to three years and six months for insulting the Crown

» 22 February 2017 – Diario de Mallorca
Read the ruling which condemns Valtonyc here

» 9 February 2017 – MallorcaDiario.com
This is not freedom of expression 

» Amnesty International
Annual report – Spain 2016/17 

» L.E.A. Platform for Freedom of Artistic Expression
Cases of repressed artists