Spanish Court Orders The Arrest of Puppeteers For Glorifying Terrorism

220px-Swanage_Punch_&_JudySpanish Puppeteers Alfónso Lázaro de la Torre and Raul García Pérez could be headed to prison after a decision by Judge Ismael Moreno Chamarro. The Court noted that the two men performed for children in a play that included “the hanging of a doll dressed as a judge, the stabbing of policeman, the rape of a nun and her later stabbing with a crucifix”. That is certainly a large measure beyond the Punch and Judy shows that we grew up with. However, the question remains whether such shows, as disgusting as they are, should be turned into criminalized speech or left to civil liability and public pressures.


Spain has an ambiguously written law that has long been criticized by civil libertarians. Glorifying terrorism can get people in jail for a 1-3 year prison sentence under Article 578 of the Spanish Criminal Code. They can also be jailed for 1-4 years for the crime of inciting hatred “during the exercise of fundamental rights and public freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution” under Article 510.

Notably, police also found “small sign” with the slogan “Gora Alka ETA” on one of the men. The judge adopted a curious interpretation. “Gore ETA” is a common meaning of “Long live ETA”, but the judge concluded it was meant to refer also to “Long live Al-Qaeda-ETA.” Putting aside the interpretive approach, finding a sign on one of the men is a problematic aggravator, let alone a basis, for a criminal case. This concern is magnified by the court noting that a “cover of a book called ‘Against Democracy’, by the Coordinated Anarchist Groups” had been found among their possessions.

The judge said that parents were legitimately “horrified” and some protested or called police. The city is apparently canning the carnival managers which seems appropriate given the inappropriate content of the show. However, there remains the criminalization of the speech. The play was clearly inappropriate if the accounts are accurate. However, the terrorism connections are based loosely on two items that are not only matters of interpretation but not shown at the play, unless there is some new evidence.

We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here).

The arrest of puppeteers again puts civil libertarians in a tough position. No one is supporting such a show for an audience with children. However, the taste for censorship and criminalization of speech is rising in the West. It is a trend that seriously threatens the core value of Western Civilization of free speech.

What do you think?

Source: Spain Report

18 thoughts on “Spanish Court Orders The Arrest of Puppeteers For Glorifying Terrorism

  1. What your description doesn’t mention (I assume because you don’t have the full details on the show) is that the little sign was part of a satirical scene which can in no way be interpreted as favoring or promoting the terrorist groups. In this scene of the show, apparently some police puppets want to frame one of the other puppets so that they can arrest her and take her house away from her, so they plant this little sign on her in order to have an excuse to put her in jail. So it is the policemen who make this sign and plant it on their victim. Therefore, no statement is being made in favor of what the sign says, since it has obviously been made by characters that do not support terrorism for a purpose totally unrelated to terrorism. The sign could’ve been replaced with drugs or anything else that would’ve made it look like the police were framing the other character. The focal point of the moment is the police framing someone, not the sign. But these puppeteers probably decided to use a demonstration sign as a social critique, since many police in Spain have been accused of trying to frame anti-government demonstrators recently in different ways (and quite successfully: many regular people at demonstrations have recently been jailed for nothing more than being at a demonstration). With these arrests, Spain continues down the slippery-slope towards losing its already very weak democracy. It has already prohibited insulting the king, saying things offensive to the church, going to demonstrations that occur spontaneously thru social media messages, or sending such messages, etc. Doesn’t sound like freedom of speech or democracy to me. By the way, the judge hearing the case was originally a policeman under Franco’s repressive dictatorship, in a police force known for its horrific brutality and total impunity in committing torture, planting evidence, repressing anyone against the dictator, etc.

  2. It was not for children but was performed for children. They do the prison time regardless of the excuse the court finds to put them there.

  3. Prof. Turley,
    You are a Constitutional Scholar and must realize that even in “the west” the US stands alone with a document that tends to assure free speech. WE ARE ALONE, among the “big” nations in the world, and in fact the history of the world, with such a document. It is what allows us to be unique. Expectations that free speech would be protected in France, Spain, Israel, etc. are misplaced.
    Celebrate that we are different. Let’s hope that the Supremes keep it that way.

  4. Glorifying terrorism is a biit different from criticizing government. I suppose there will be a Broadway show soon depicting humans jumping off the Twin Towers and terrorists singing the al qaeda national anthem. A puppet show in front of the White House depicting someone killing a dog named Beau would not be in good favor.

  5. 1 the show was not for children
    2 is not possible to make a crime from glorifyin a fictional group
    3 fiction is fiction no reality
    4 freedom of speech is out we dont live in normal freedom
    5 any opinion we give as persons or artist we will be now afraid

  6. A play that on its surface is appealing to children but not for children. Depicting the killing of a priest and the rape of a nun. The hanging of a judge and stabbing of a police doll. The sign may not say Al-Qaeda but the chanting says it.

    If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck. The message is clearly a pro terrorism one and on its surface is directed at children. It’s called indoctrination and if it’s allowed now, they will take an inch and stretch it to a mile. This isn’t an innocent play, it’s a message of terror and propaganda dressed in free speech, directed at children.

  7. Clearly, this was an adult show that was marketed and performed for children. They were right to fire them. The puppeteers sound unhinged and they should never be hired to perform in public.

    But I disagree with laws that criminalize speech, short of the very strict inciting a riot laws or using speech to plan a crime.

  8. This occurred in Spain, where the age of consent was only recently raised to 16 from 13. Spain, where incest is not a criminal offense, even if it is father-daughter, as long as the parties are consenting adults.

    What a screwy country.

  9. Lisa N seems like you didn’t saw the play and are talking nosense.

    – the landowner rapes the witch, who is the main character, and leaves her pregnant.
    – the nun tries to take her son, so she kills her while trying to stop her.
    – the police gives the witch a beating and plants a banner that says “gora alka-eta” on her to incriminate her.
    – the judge condemns her to death by hanging and while scaping she pushes him and he dies instead.

    Is it a play for kids? Probably not, although there’s nothing there that wasn’t on Grimm Brothers books. But the problem is that they aren’t charged for that. They are charged for gloryfying terrorism. On a puppet show. On the basis of a banner that was created as false evidence by a pupped policeman.

    Maybe we should also put in prision every actor who has ever played a criminal? They are gloryfying crime, right?

  10. Rob Engranajes ~> Read the article;
    “The Court noted that the two men performed for children in a play that included “the hanging of a doll dressed as a judge, the stabbing of policeman, the rape of a nun and her later stabbing with a crucifix”.

    You have a totally different take on the play than the author of this article.

  11. Here you can read the facts about what happened, very well explained:

    STATEMENT FROM THE CNT-AIT (NATIONAL CONFEDERATION OF LABOUR-INTERNATIONAL WORKERS ASSOCIATION) GRANADA REGARDING THE ARREST OF TWO PUPPETEERS, WORKERS FROM THE COMPANY “PUPPETS FROM BELOW” FOR ALLEGEDLY PRAISING TERRORISM DURING A PERFORMANCE IN MADRID.

    Original Statement in Spanish: http://granada.cnt.es/content/comunicado-de-la-cnt-ait-de-granada-respecto-la-detenci%C3%B3n-de-los-integrantes-de-%E2%80%9Ct%C3%ADteres

    On Friday the 5th of February the two components from the “Titeres desde abajo” (Puppets from below) company were arrested during their last performance, “La bruja y Don Cristobal” (The Witch and Mr. Cristobal). They have been charged for allegedly praising terrorism. Our Union know these two people: one of them is a member of our organization and the other person is a beloved friend that we have known since many years ago. This is not the first performance from the company “Titeres desde abajo”.

    This particular performance, “La bruja y Don Cristobal” premiered recently in Granada, on the 29th of January 2016. Many people including us, attended to both performances and were able to find out about the plot and its background. Their position, which makes sure to be humanitarian, discussing current issues, could clash with other political positions or views. This performance stands up for social harmony, tolerance and respect, and the acceptance of the different. The opposition to these values by some powers is the source of all the confrontations and the storyline of the show.

    During the performance that took place on the 5th of February in Madrid, a fraction of the crowd felt very upset during the performance, and far from restrict themselves to an aesthetic or criteria issue, they called the police to report an alleged situation of praising or glorifying terrorism. The police went and arrested the puppeteers, who had already had to stop the performance because of the action from the angry audience. Since then, the puppeteers from the “Titeres desde abajo” company are being held and they are in isolation, uncommunicated.

    The press, mass media, being loyal to the easy formula: “shocking news and difficult to verify”, and because of their focus on the morbid fascination of certain politicians from Madrid, have proceeded to publish the complaint just like that, without even trying to corroborate the defendants version of the facts, and therefore giving as if it were the truth to the public, a completely erroneus story about what the performance that we saw in Granada is, and what is it about, and that we trust to back up with documentary evidence soon. In the news content from the mass media the “praising terrorism” was highlighted via one banner that showed the motto “Gora Alka-ETA”, and taking the plot out of context. Likewise, they have talked about murders, raping nuns and judges.

    After all this, some clarifications are required, so we must describe truly what the performance is about. In essence, “La Bruja y Don Cristobal” ensures to represent, by using recurrent figures from tales and theatre plays, the “witch hunt” that the Anarchist movement have been suffering in Spain over the past few years with several police set-ups like “Operacion Pandora”. The Witch is the leading role in the performance, she represents all the people with a bad reputation and she finds herself in a situation where she has to confront the four powers that govern society, namely: Property, Religion, the State Force and the Law. The protagonist is at home and her life is interrupted by the appearance of ‘the owner’ in the first place, who is the legal owner of the house where the witch lives. There are no raped nuns; by the use of the puppets, the adults watch that the owner decides to take advantage of the situation and the adults can figure out that he rapes the witch; during the fight, the witch kills the owner, but she gets pregnant and gives birth to a child. It is then when the second figure shows up, the nun who is representing Religion. The nun wants to take the child with her, but she finds defiance in the witch and in the confrontation the nun dies. It is now when the police, who represents the State force, shows up, the policeman beats the witch until she is unconscious, and then he plots a set-up by placing a banner with the motto “Gora Alka-ETA”, over the witch’s body while trying to keep the banner up to take the picture, and then be able to use it as evidence and charge the witch and prosecute her by the use of the Law. After this set-up has taken place the fourth figure arises, which is the Judge. The Judge charges the witch and sentences her to death on the gallows and then he shows the gallows. The witch is able to trick him and by mistake the judge puts his head through the rope and he is hanged by the witch, in order to save her own life. The story continues a bit more, but this is the essence of the performance and where all the controversy lies.

    It can be argued whether the performance is kids friendly (PG**) or not, even for all ages, but it seems unusual that two people have being arrested and put in solitary confinement for a problem related with age rating. Also, besides the type of show, a puppet show, “Títeres desde Abajo” never mentioned their performance was specifically for kids. Furthermore, their own website lists their shows in two categories. One, “Espectáculos Infantiles” is specifically oriented to kids. The second, “Teatro Popular” is meant for all audience. Given that the show “La Bruja y don Cristóbal” is not listed in the former section, no one should accuse “Títeres desde Abajo” of lying in order to attract a specific audience. The fact that this performance uses puppets does not automatically mean that it is kids friendly. The “Rockefeller’s crow” [**] is an example of this. In addition, the synopsis of the show included references to “truncheon” and “freedom”. No one can deny that the audience didn’t know what the show was about. Obviously, not about terrorism, because there is not terrorism in the show indeed.

    In any case, the kids have to see even worse things nowadays. Not only in television, but on the streets. We don’t want to discuss about parents who bring their kids to the bullfighting, or to public processions on the streets (which is great!) that have been politicized, in which they teach the children stories about people being crucified, or to the movies to watch Bambi. Said that, we believe it is important to watch the show, even though it might be for adults. Definitely is not as hard as yet another Saw movie, as seems it has been said.

    N.T: “Rockefeller’s crow” (El cuervo de Rockefeller) is a reference to an 80’s show performed by José Luis Moreno and his puppet, a black crow. The conversation between them included adult content frequently.

    However, it is not any glorifying terrorism act/propaganda in the show whatsoever. Which is the reason why they have been arrested and put in solitary confinement. A repressive measure which is in this case extremely paradoxical, because it’s exactly what the performance is denouncing. It is still surprising to see how the laws to fight the terrorism can be used efficiently by some well-defined political view, where the prosecutor only needs to say a few words to leave the accused completely helpless. People who confuse the terrorism with what they think is tolerable, both socially and politically. People who rage against Charlie Hebdo’s censorships, but don’t hesitate to behave as Iberian Talibans. People who defend the children from the political act of denouncing the evictions, while they ignore all the politicized acts inside both education and religion, that are being fed up to the same children. People who claim “It’s the law” when a child and his family is left on the streets, homeless. An act, “barely political”, they say.

    In addition to all of it, the Council of Madrid also wants to sue “Títeres desde Abajo”. This reaction, which is essentially political, is no doubt motivated by the necessity of a public response to all the accusations of collaboration with the accused that have been thrown by the most reactionary side of the Spanish right-wing and a big part of the public media, who use this accusations as a political attack, regardless of people’s freedom. Wonderful years when the object of all ridiculous accusations was the 15/M, the ***social movement the local council encourages to represent.

    Our Union wants to express our support to “Títeres Desde Abajo”. We demand the immediate release of all detainees and the right of free artistic creation. Again, we are under political oppression by the authorities and a very well defined political sector of the society of this country. They should use the energy they are wasting against artistic performances to better goals, for the people who really need it. But it is clear that this is a mask to hide real political intentions that are transmitted by force instead of culture. Finally, we thank all the people, groups and organizations that in a matter of hours, have shown their support to “Títeres desde Abajo” and have contacted with our organization when they found out about our close relation with the two detainees. We hope they are released free of charges immediately.

    FREE THE PUPPETEERS

    A carnival event, organized by Madrid’s City Hall, ended with two puppeteers in prison, accused of praising/glorifying terrorism. The artists were representing exactly what has happened to them. In their performance, a character (a witch) is left unconscious, while she is unaware of the set up that another character (a police) is organizing by putting a banner with the words “GORA ALKA-ETA” over her body so that it seems like the witch is defending terrorism. A third party (a judge) then decides to sentence her to death by hanging. It’s precisely that banner that says “GORA ALKA-ETA” which has been used by a judge to accuse these puppeteers of allegedly praising terrorism.

    The difference between the judge in the play, that condemns the witch, and the judge in real life, that condemns the puppeteers, is the material they’re made out of: the first one is made of rags and the second one is an ex policeman who used to serve the fascist dictator Franco and is now a judge in the Spanish court (Audiencia Nacional).

    Nobody is surprised that a judge like that would attack the freedom of speech and the common people’s artistic creation and even order prison without bail for the two puppeteers. But this is not only about this particular judge. We have been suffering this repression for a long time: with the so called “Gag Law” (Ley Mordaza), with fellow activists arrested in their own houses, with the reform of the Criminal Code, with fines, unjustified assaults on political organizations and social centers and arresting and sending people to prison for doing things like going to a demonstration to exercise their own right to protest about this kind of outrage.

    There are still two more characters left in this story: The Media and the City Hall. The Media, in general, has assumed and spread the judge’s version knowing that it was a lie, with the idea of attacking the City Hall (now with a new political party in the government). And the City Hall has decided to report the puppeteers for breaking the contract instead of defending the workers, that were hired by them, and their freedom of speech.

    Too many characters for one story, that would be ridiculous if it wasn’t for the two colleagues that are in prison since last Friday.

    Stated the facts, the “Free the Puppeteers Assembly” demands:

    1. Immediate release without charges for our two colleagues from the puppeteer’s company ‘Títeres desde Abajo’.

    2. The dropping of all charges by the City Hall.

    3. That there is an investigation on every person involved in the judicial chain to be able to ascertain whose are the responsible/s of ordering prison without bail for a crime that never happened.

    We will continue to campaign and protest as long as freedom of speech and artistic creation are not respected and as long as the common people suffer repression and our colleagues remain in prison. They want us alone, they’ll have us united.

    PEOPLE’S ART ISN’T ILLEGAL

    FREEDOM FOR THE PUPPETEERS

    STOP REPRESSION
    Send your adhesion to titiriteroslibertad@riseup.net

    Next Demonstrations:
    Wednesday, February 10th. 7pm (Madrid) Saturday, February 13th. 6 pm- Ministry of Justice. (Madrid)

    If there are any protests in your city send it to us so they can be included.

    • Martni – I have worked with children’s theatre, both as an actor and as a director. The posters should have clearly said the show was for adults only and the management of the show should have prevented children from attending. I have no problem with the puppeteers being jailed.

      • Hi Paul, well, the puppeteers made that clear several times, hours before the event and right in front of the public before they started, they said it was for adults and there was violence. It is also stated like that in their website, so it seems that the problem is coming from the local council that didn’t say it was a show for adults in the printed program, it didn’t said it was for kids either but because it is a puppets show everybody understood it was for kids without reading that anywhere. I agree it should have been announced better and with all the information, but that’s not the puppeteers fault, someone will have to apologize for that, I agree. About preventing the children from attending, the puppeteers can’t do that because the show was on the streets and I guess that they might have understood that if parents with kids don’t leave after being told that the show is for adults and there is violence, it is at their own choice.

        A complete different story is the reason why they are in prison without bail, which is completely nuts and scary: The artists were representing exactly what has happened to them. In their performance, a character (a witch) is left unconscious, while she is unaware of the set up that another character (a police) is organizing by putting a banner with the words “GORA ALKA-ETA” over her body so that it seems like the witch is defending terrorism. A third party (a judge) then decides to sentence her to death by hanging. It’s precisely that banner that says “GORA ALKA-ETA” which has been used by a judge to accuse these puppeteers of allegedly praising terrorism.

        Something that could have ended with a fine for an age rating issue, has been transformed by the media and a very particular judge (Ismael Moreno Chamarro policeman during the fascist dictatorship in Spain) into a huge monster, their names and pictures are everywhere, they could get 4 and a have years in jail for this and that is crazy, because with the same arguments they could charge every single person involved in making a movie about terrorism, and there are many of those. And honestly, after all, everything that is happening just made me reassure that more people need to see their performance (only adults obviously) which is about protecting your freedom and fight everybody that is trying to take that away from you.

        In case you want to sign:
        https://www.change.org/p/libertad-sin-cargos-para-los-artistas-de-t%C3%ADteres-desde-abajo

        • Martini – this show should never have been produced in a public square. When you work with “touchy” material you need to have a controlled space. I am well aware that sometimes artists think they are above the law, however, even with the lax laws we have in the United States for freedom of speech and artistic expression, I think your friends would do some time.
          On the up-side, the time in prison will give them some street cred. Time to write new material and work it out. They could come out of this very successfully.

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