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A bullfighter, a giant vagina, and Francisco Franco

In October, Ireland (top of the 1st quartile) voted overwhelmingly to remove the offence of blasphemy from the constitution.[1]

The mood was somewhat different in Spain, where three women were prosecuted for insulting religious feelings after a satirical pseudo-religious procession of a large vagina through Seville.

Actor Willy Toledo was also investigated in March for insulting religious feelings following his criticism of the prosecution.[2] ‘I shit on God and I have enough left over to shit on the dogma of the sanctity and virginity of the Virgin Mary,’ wrote Toledo, who refused to attend his court hearing, instead holding a press conference in a church, accompanied by colleague Javier Bardem, who said the case ‘brings us back to the era of Franco’.[3]

But even fascist dictator Franco himself had his honour protected in the Spanish courts in 2018, despite having died in 1975: the Francisco Franco National Foundation lodged a court case against TV commentators and political satirist El Gran Wyoming, along with his co-presenter and TV channel, after a parody about the dictator’s exhumation.[4]

Indeed, comedy was particularly under fire in 2018; Magnolia magazine was ordered to pay a 40,000 Euro (around 45,000 USD) fine to a bullfighter for a caricature,[5] and artist Daniel Serrano was fined €480 (more than 500 USD) for posting his own face photoshopped onto an image of Jesus Christ.[6]

Only months later, Russian 19-year-old Daniil Markin faced five years in jail, as well as losing access to his bank accounts, for joking about Christianity on social media.[7]

The European Court of Human Rights was a mixed voice in the face of these convictions. In July, the Court ruled that the Russian government had violated Pussy Riot’s right to freedom of expression when it arrested and jailed them for incitement to religious hatred following their punk protest in a Moscow cathedral.[8] However, the Court upheld a blasphemy conviction in Austria for insulting Mohammed, citing ‘religious feelings’,[9] as well as a Ukrainian protester’s conviction – including a suspended three-year prison sentence – for frying eggs over the flame of a war memorial, claiming the sentence was not a violation of the protester’s freedom of expression.[10]



[1] Patsy McGarry, ‘Ireland votes as one to remove blasphemy from Constitution’, The Irish Times, 28 October 2018, available at

[2] El Mundo, ‘Un juzgado investigará a Willy Toledo por insultar a Dios y a la Virgen María’, 16 March 2018, available at

[3] Ivan Gil, ‘Willy Toledo desobedece su cita con el juez como investigado por “cagarse en Dios”’, El Confidencial, 22 May 2018, available at

[4] Danilo Albin, ‘La Fundación Franco se querellará contra Wyoming por parodiar la exhumación del dictador’, Publico, 6 September 2018, available at

[5] Revista Mongolia, Mongolia condenada a pagar 40.000 euros y las costas a Ortega Cano por vulnerar su honor, 4 March 2018, available at

[6] Global Voices – Advox, ‘Photoshopped image of Christ reveals limits of Spain’s right to free expression’, 23 February 2018, available at

[7] Global Voices – Advox, ‘Russians are facing criminal prosecution for sharing memes online, thanks to anti-extremism laws’, 9 August 2018, available at

[8] Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University, Mariya Alekhina and Others v. Russia, 17 July 2018, available at

[9] Bojan Pancevski, ‘Europe Court upholds ruling against woman who insulted Islam’, The Wall Street Journal, 26 October 2018, available at

[10] Ronan Ó Fathaigh and Dirk Voorhoof, ‘Conviction for performance-art protest at war memorial did not violate Article 10’, Strasbourg Observer, 19 March 2018, available at