Spain: Commit to reform restrictive criminal laws in upcoming UPR

Civic Space 3 min read
ARTICLE 19

ARTICLE 19 and European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) have made a Universal Periodic Review submission on the situation of freedom of expression in Spain. The submission details how Spain is failing to live up to its commitments on freedom of expression, including through overbroad counter-terrorism, lèse majesté, and blasphemy provisions. The Universal Periodic Review is a unique mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council, through which each UN Member State makes commitments to improve its human rights record, following an assessment of progress made against previous commitments. Spain will be reviewed at the 35th Session of the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review in January 2020. 

This is the third time Spain has undergone a Universal Periodic Review, and our submission details that the government has largely failed to act on its earlier commitments to protect freedom of expression. 

The Spanish Penal Code (SPC) contains numerous provisions which criminalise insult, including lèse majesté provisions to protect members of the Royal Family, as well as institutions or symbols of the State, from criticism. These provisions do not comply with Spain’s obligations under international human rights law, and ultimately serve to silence dissenting voices. 

The SPC goes further and criminalises religious insult, essentially a form of blasphemy law. The need to repeal blasphemy laws has been made clear from various international and regional bodies – from the UN Human Rights Committee to the Council of Europe – given their repressive impact on freedom of expression, in particular on critical discourse around religion. 

Additionally, the SPC contains unduly broad and vague definitions of terrorism, additionally criminalising the glorification of terrorism that falls short of incitement to terrorist acts of violence. This leaves such provisions open to be applied in an arbitrary and excessive manner to silence or even detain individuals who do not pose a threat to national security. There is mounting evidence to suggest that these provisions have been used to target critics of the government. 

Finally, SPC provisions criminalise ‘hate speech’ beyond the prescribed requirements of international law, failing to include a specific intent requirement for a speaker to incite discrimination or violence, or proof that such consequences are likely to flow from the expression. Fully protecting freedom of expression in Spain also requires the review of these provisions. 

ARTICLE 19 and ECPMF highlight these concerns in detail in the submission, and propose concrete recommendations that States must direct to Spain during the upcoming Universal Periodic Review, to ensure the right to freedom of expression is fully protected in the country. 

Read the submission