Freemuse calls for the investigation of José Manuel Sande to be dropped

3 May 2017

Spanish Head of Culture Department investigated over carnival poster

3 MAY 2017 | Freemuse is concerned about the judicial investigation of José Manuel Sande, Head of Culture for the City Hall of A Coruña, Spain, by Court of Instruction number 3 over accusations that he offended the religious feelings of believers for featuring a drawing of a person dressed as the Pope in the city’s carnival programme.

Two different complaints against Mr. Sande were filed in the Courts of Instruction numbers 3 and 8 by two private individuals. While one individual has remained unidentified, the other, Aurora Carro, president of La Asociación de Viudas de Lugo (The Association of Widows of Lugo), has publicly described how she felt insulted by the drawing by artist Alberto Guitian, saying it mocked Catholic believers. The case filed by the unidentified individual was quickly dropped by the judge of court number 8 due to a lack of evidence, but the second was upheld in court number 3 and an investigation is ongoing.

“Investigating someone for featuring a playful carnival drawing simply does not meet international standards that limitations on expressions must be necessary and proportionate,” said Srirak Plipat, Freemuse Executive Director. “The investigation against Mr. Sande must be dropped, doing otherwise would set a dangerous precedent by Spanish authorities.”

Article 20 of the Spanish Constitution protects freedom of artistic expression. Further, Spain is party to several international conventions including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, which provide strong protection of the right to artistic expression and establishes that any limitations on expressions, including artistic expressions, imposed by the State must be necessary and proportionate.

Mr. Sande has already been interrogated by the presiding judge at court number 3 on 17 April 2017. The ongoing investigation may eventually lead to a trial, though a date has not yet been set.

Mr. Sande could be brought up on charges under article 525 of the Spanish Criminal Code, which establishes a fine of anywhere from 480 Euros (approx. USD $525) up to 144,000 Euros (approx. USD $157,000) for insulting the religious feelings of believers, or for insulting atheists.

The fact that such hefty fines could be applied to a simple act of creative expression will have a chilling effect on artists, curators and others who commission art in Spain, causing them to self-censor, while signalling to non-state interest groups that they have increasing, government-approved power to limit artistic freedom of expression.

“As the world becomes more intolerant to opinions and expressions from people of different nationalities, races, religions and other identities, Spain should lead by example in showing its society can embrace diverse views and expressions, even when they differ from their own,” Plipat said.

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Dwayne Mamo |
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Press release also available in Spanish

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