The actor and tweeter Toni Albà, known for his imitations of the previous Spanish King, Juan Carlos I on Catalan public television, tried because of some comments over Twitter
Mr. Albà has stated that: “I have been imitating the King for 16 years, and I had already looked into whether this could lead me to court. Animus ofendi is not the same as Animus jocandi. I’m not here to offend, but to joke.
I make humorous tweets, but the judge was very worried that “you have many followers.” (…) he was worried that I have many followers… Don’t you realize that I do not control it? They want to control people’s thinking and do they not realize that the historical age for such a thing has passed?”
Actor Toni Albà was summoned to testify at the beginning of December 2017, charged with slander. When he asked the court of Vilanova i la Geltrú (where he resides) the reason, he was told that they could not reveal what the reasons were for the case filed against him [by the public prosecutor]. Initially, a press leak indicated that it was due to his imitations of the Spanish monarch, and so it was speculated that the accusation would be made in relation to the crime of “insulting the Crown”, according to the Spanish legal framework.
Later on, Mr. Albà found out thanks to the media – to whom the court had granted access to the case file – that the summons was due to tweets in which Mr. Albà made anagrams, word games, and humorous palindromes in relation to several famous people from the political domain. Amongst those he jibed was Judge Carmen Lamela, who instructed the cases against prisoners and exiled Catalan political representatives. At the court hearing on January 30, 2018, the judge insisted that the problem was that “he has many followers”.
Mr. Toni Albà impersonating the Spanish King Juan Carlos I in Catalan TV. Source: Creative Commons
The accusations against Albà are not an isolated case of humorists being prosecuted in Spain. Since 2016, several people who are influential in the social and professional networks of the world of comedy and humour have been dragged before Spanish courts. The cases pointed at critical and divergent voices, especially when it involved comedians or singers who had targeted the Monarchy, made funny comments online about past events that involved terrorist violence, or the violent action of the police forces in Spain. Such statements were all prosecuted judicially. The authors’ intentions had always been to be humorous, artistic, or simply put: as expressions of free critical thinking.
Since 2014, the Spanish semi-military police force, the “Guardia Civil”, has been carrying out the so-called “Spider Operation” aimed at pursuing cases of terrorism apology. An example of the operation in action is the case of Cassandra Vera, who made various funny tweets in reference to the bomb which killed dictator Francisco Franco’s Prime Minister in 1973. Ms. Vera was tried and sentenced to one year in prison and finally acquitted after having successfully appealed the sentence. Among these features the proceedings against Mr. Albà for having posted a photo of “Guardia Civil” and “Policía Nacional” officers, posing triumphantly and happily in front of the pleasure cruisers chartered by the Spanish government to accommodate them during the repression of the Catalan referendum on October 1. The picture featured a humorous comment that resulted in a first accusation of wrongdoing to be filed against him.
On May 31, 2018, Mr. Albà was again summoned to the courts in order to be informed that the same cause was being expanded to incorporate new tweets of his. Once his statement before the judge was completed, his lawyer requested the proceedings to be terminated. In the words of Mr. Albà: “Freedom of expression is a right that I have 100% (…). The pre-trial phase is an open cause to all and everything that can influence socially, and against the freedom of thought and for people to have the freedom to sing, to give their opinions, and to the whole society… I think that this case is not against me, but against the whole society.”
The judge, however, has decided to start an investigation against him on account of the tweets published. The prosecutor’s office has requested Mr. Albà be fined €19,200. Mr. Albà has made this news public through his Twitter account (15-11-2018) and has stated that this is an attempt to “punish dissent”. The actor has also described the judiciary as “pathetic”.
Other cases of violation of artistic freedom and freedom of speech:
- Rapper Valtònyc
Violation of article 20 of the Spanish Constitution, which clearly indicates in its first section that it recognizes and protects the rights – among others – to:
a) To express and spread freely thoughts, ideas and opinions by word, in writing, or by any other means of production.
b) Literary, artistic, scientific and technical production and creation.
Violation of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:
“Every individual has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes not being disturbed because of their opinions, researching for and receiving information and opinions, and spreading them without limitation because of borders, by any means of expression».
Violation of article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, where the right to freedom of expression is established.