European Court condemns Spain over freedom of expression

by Deborah Cater
Spain condemned over freedom of speech

Spain is again convicted of restricting freedom of expression by the European Court of Human Rights. This follows the fining of two men after allegedly insulting a judge.

While there are still considerable protests in Spain over the arrest of rapper Pablo Hasél and the limits of freedom of expression, Spain is again facing a negative ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. Spain convicted two NGO spokespersons who publicly criticised a judge.

Lawsuit from 2015 leads to criticism of Spanish courts

It involves a 2015 case regarding a conflict between a company and the Teruel City Council. Sergio Benítez and Ivo Aragón, spokespersons for the civil society Plataforma Aguilar Natural, disagreed with the judge’s ruling.

In 2010, the spokespersons wrote an open letter in Teruel’s newspaper to investigating judge María Elena Marcén. This letter stated that the judge was biased because she would have done nothing with evidence proving their innocence. The Teruel court took this as a personal attack on the judge, accusing the men of “ignorance, partiality and unjust behavior.” They were both fined €2,400.

Casa Las Dunas Spain

European Court finds court acted incorrectly

The case was subsequently heard by the European Court of Human Rights. A majority of the judges involved decided that the Spanish court acted incorrectly. However, a Spanish and a Cypriot judge of the European Court disagree with the conclusion of the other five judges.

A statement by the European Court of Human Rights states that judges may be subject to criticism within permissible limits. However, this criticism would be based on the statement and not the person. While public institutions should be protected by competent authorities, the imposition of a fine in this context may even have a dissuasive effect on the exercise of freedom of expression.

EU condemns Spain to pay damages

With this ruling, the European Court ordered Spain to indemnify both gentlemen with an amount of €6,779 (the fine plus court costs). The gentlemen will also both receive €6,000 for moral damage and €3,341 for costs incurred defending themselves in court and then to appeal the decision.

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