20 February 2018 – PEN International is highly concerned about the Spanish Supreme Tribunal’s decision to confirm the conviction of rapper Valtonyc. He was convicted to three and a half years of imprisonment on charges of insults to the Crown, glorification of terrorism and making threats.
‘We deplore today’s decision by the Supreme Tribunal to confirm the prison sentence of Valtonyc,’ said Laurens Hueting, Europe Programme Coordinator for PEN International. ‘We call for an immediate end to the application of the so-called “Gag Law” to silence artistic expression deemed unsavoury by the authorities, and for Spain to respect its human rights obligations under international and European law. Freedom of expression can be restricted only in limited circumstances and under strict conditions, which we believe were not met in this case.’
Carme Arenas, President of Catalan PEN added: ‘The proceedings against Valtonyc demonstrate the alarming impact of the “Gag Law”, which has served to criminalise legitimate peaceful protest and dissent in Spain. In a democracy, artists and other citizens should not face criminal proceedings or serve time in prison for criticising the authorities.’
Musician and poet Valtonyc (the stage name of Josep Miquel Arenas Beltrán) was first arrested in August 2012 after Jorge Campos Asensi, President of the nationalist foundation Ciculo Balear complained that one of his songs incited violence against him and other members of the foundation. Although these charges were eventually dismissed in 2015, the public prosecutor decided to pursue charges of ‘grave insults to the Crown’, ‘glorification of terrorism and humiliation of its victims’ and ‘threats’ against Valtonyc. On 22 February 2017, the National Court sentenced him to three years and six months in prison and ordered him to pay 3000 Euro in compensation to Campos Asensi.
Damaging effect of Gag Law
PEN International and Catalan PEN are deeply concerned about the effects of the Gag Law (December 2014) and consider it a serious and alarming deterioration in respect for, and protection of human rights in Spain. In short, the law enables the prosecution of summary offences or misdemeanours - such as graffiti, song lyrics and poems - as crimes of terrorism or arms trafficking. Since its entry into force in July 2015, there have been a large number of denunciations and arrests of artists, writers, journalists and social media users who peacefully expressed dissent or criticised the authorities.
Artistic expression under attack
In addition to the legal proceedings against Valtonyc, we are also concerned about the ‘chilling effect’ of this law on artistic expression. For instance, Catalan poet Dolors Miquel Abellà was attacked on social media and was accused by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers of insulting religious feelings for reciting her poem ‘Mare Nostra’ (a parody of the Lord’s Prayer) at the City of Barcelona Awards on 16 February 2016. The case was dismissed on 15 March 2016. On 13 September 2017 a video by Mallorcan artist Ferran García Sevilla, which shows a Catalan pro-independence flag during the celebrations of Catalonia’s National Day on 11 September 2016, was removed by YouTube, citing a violation of its Community Rules, following an anonymous complaint.
For further details contact Laurens Hueting at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org