Human rights court condemns Spain over punishments for burning pictures of king
European body rules that burning images of Spanish monarch is freedom of expression and does not incite hatred
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against the Spanish judiciary’s prosecution of people for burning images of the king. The international court stated that burning pictures of Spain's monarch is freedom of expression, and that it does not incite hatred. The court's ruling comes after two Catalan men were fined for burning pictures of the former Spanish king and queen in Girona on the occasion of the monarchs' visit to the city in 2007. The judge sentenced them to a 2,700-euro fine. Now, Spain will have to return this amount of money to the two men. In addition, the European court ruled that Spain has to pay a 9,000 euros compensation to both complainants.
The two Catalan men, Enric Stern and Jaume Roura, burned images of the former Spanish king and queen in 2007, on the occasion of the monarchs' visit to the northern city. Their case was referred to the Spanish National Court, which sentenced them to 15 months in prison. The judge then reduced the sentence to a 2,700-euro fine.
According to the European Court of Human Rights, the ruling by the Spanish judiciary was neither "proportionate" nor "necessary," and it obliges Spain to return this amount of money to the two men. In addition, the European court ruled that Spain also has to pay 9,000 euros compensation to both complainants.
The decision by the European court over Spain's punishments for burning images of the king was unanimous. The European body thus upholds the arguments of the complainants that the Spanish court’s ruling was an "unwarranted interference" with their right to freedom of expression. This right is enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The European court magistrates stated that burning images of the king was "political criticism" against the monarchy. What's more, they said that this action entails "a permissible degree of provocation" in order to transmit a "critical" message. The European court's decision came two years after this same court opened an investigation into this disputed action, setting fire to the images of the Spanish king and queen as an act of protest.
Spain's Constitutional Court ratified the sentence in 2015
After the National Court's decision, the defense of the two men appealed the court's ruling in another high court, Spain's Constitutional Court. The latter, however, ratified the sentence in 2015, arguing that burning images of the king is not freedom of expression, as it is an offensive act and it "incites hatred". Their defense then appealed to the European Human Rights Court, which was tasked with deliberating whether the burning images of the monarch is freedom of expression or not.
Some of the individuals prosecuted for burning pictures of the king gathered in centre of Girona. They stated that the ruling made by the European Court of Human Rights is a "victory" that shows Spain's "prosecution against the freedom of expression." They also called on citizens to light a "monarchic bonfire" every time the Spanish king visits Catalonia. Still, Roura and Stern, the two complainants did not attend the gathering.
The lawyer of the two complainants, Benet Salellas, said that the court's ruling is a "complete amendment" to Spanish judiciary. In addition, Salellas noted that the decision made by the European court shows that criticism to the State's institutions is not "incitement to hatred."