Thursday, November 11, 2004

Freedom of speech – Spanish style

The unease with shared by many over the application of the European Arrest Warrant, replacing the established extradition agreements between EU member states, should be doubly reinforced by recent sinister developments in Spain.

A post on the Periscope blog recounts an appalling episode involving the Spanish judicial authorities which have just confirmed a decision by a lower court to sanction two journalists – for telling the truth.

The affected pair are José Luis Gutiérrez, former editor-in-chief of the defunct Diario 16 newspaper, and Rosa María López, former Diario 16 reporter, who were indicted in 1996, months after allegedly violating Moroccan King Hassan II's right to "maintain his honour".

The indictments took place after Diario 16 published a story about the seizure of five tons of hashish inside a truck belonging to the Moroccan Royal Crown. Even though the story was proven accurate, the defendants were found guilty and sentenced by two lower courts.

In order to indict them, the courts used two arbitrary laws inherited or adapted from the Franco dictatorship, including the 1982 Protection of Honor, Privacy and Right to a Respectful Image Law, which places the burden of proving truth or falsity upon the defendant, and Franco's 1966 Press Law, most of which is still current, and by which not only the author of the article is incriminated but also the editor-in-chief and the publishing company as well.

Despite the travesty of this position, this year Spain's Supreme Tribunal rejected the journalists’ appeal, alleging the headline of the story was "insulting and untruthful," even though in the same sentence the magistrates acknowledged the article was accurate. Also, a yet-to-be-determined fine could cause catastrophic financial ruin to both journalists, who have appealed to the country's highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal.

For more details, refer to the current World Press Freedom Committee newsletter but, in the meantime, ponder whether we want to be tied in with a nation which does not even seem to be able to support the basic tenets of press freedom and which still has laws on its statute book that were created by a Fascist dictator for the explicit purpose of suppressing free speech.

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