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Spain12 October 2007

Call for amendment to law after journalists pulled up for insulting the crown

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a raft of recent cases in which journalists have become embroiled in cases of “insulting the crown” and called for decriminalisation of laws which damage freedom of expression.

The worldwide press freedom organisation also called for journalists’ right to protect their sources to be strengthened.

Catalan nationalist demonstrators on 13 September 2007 burned effigies of King Juan Carlos as he visited the city of Gerona. Two of them were identified and charged with “serious insult to the monarchy”. Nine others were also charged.

A demonstration organised in Barcelona on 22 September in support of those previously charged drew several hundred people, who in their turn burned portraits of the king.

Judge Fernando Grande-Marlaska on 28 September ordered photographer Jordi Ribot, who covered the demonstration to hand over his pictures to help identify demonstrators. He at first refused, saying he did not work for the police, but finally complied under threat of a charge of “disobedience to judicial authority” (Article 556 of the criminal law) under which he faced six months to one year in jail.

“It is scandalous to turn a journalist into a police auxiliary by forcing him to hand over his photos under threat of proceedings. The case is minor and the protection of sources should have taken precedence,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“Two other publications recently had a brush with justice for publishing a caricature of the king. However irreverent it may be it does not justify the penalties facing the two journalists,” it added.

In this case, three journalists and contributors to Basque media Deia and Gara, Josetxu Rodriguez, Javier Ripa and Nicola Lococo appeared before a court for “insults to the king” on 17 September. The first two had created a photocomposition published in December 2006 in a supplement of the daily Deia, Caduca hoy, showing King Juan Carlos hunting a bear which had been drugged to make it easier to catch.

The illustration was used to go with an article by Nicola Lococo which appeared in the daily Gara. Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza stepped in, saying that the montage and the article “harmed the dignity and standing of the head of state”. The journalists condemned an attempt to force media into self-censorship. They face six to 24 months in prison under Articles 490 and 491 of the criminal law. The prosecutor has yet to decide whether to proceed.

In an earlier case on 20 July 2007, the courts ordered the seizure of satirical paper El Jueves after an issue appeared with a cover representing Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letiza having sexual intercourse, and which mocked the policy of encouraging a higher birth rate of the government of José Louis Rodriguez Zapatero.




 
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