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). Even politicians have been charged under the ever-widening standard of criminalized speech. Now Spain has made clear that it is committed to the same trend of curtailing free speech. In a moment worthy of Franco, Spanish police arrested five Catalan independence activists for allegedly burning photos of King Felipe VI. Much like arrests in Russia, destroying or disrespecting the image of the national leader is all that is required in Spain.
The accused are members of Catalan anti-capitalist party CUP and had already been summoned to appear before a judge at the National Audience, Spain’s top criminal court. They did not show up. Police then charged them with insulting the monarchy and burning Spanish flags during a rally on Catalonia’s national day on September 11.
CUP is both in favor of independence and opposed to the monarchy. Many people around the world oppose even symbolic monarchies and the burning of a picture of the King is clearly political speech. It is not protected however in Spain.
Spain has had a long and troubled history with military governance and authoritarian abuses. It views itself as past that dark period in its history but the arrests of these activists shows that there remains a fundamental lack of protections for core liberties in the country. Free speech is the right that protects all other rights and remains the bulwark against authoritarianism. Without such a right, Spain has an uncertain future. It is following the mistaken path laid out by England, France and Germany in the criminalization of speech.