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ECHR overturns sentence for burning photos of King
A VERDICT by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has found that burning photographs of the King of Spain comes under the heading of 'freedom of expression' and those who do so cannot be convicted of 'incitement to hatred'.
At the same time as Amnesty International issued a warning that Spain was 'going too far' with its criminal convictions for 'exaltation of terrorism' – with 119 people under investigation or already sentenced for comments on Twitter and Facebook, which include what have been described as 'tired' jokes about attacks more than 40 years ago – the ECHR has described action taken against anti-monarchy protesters to be 'disproportionate'.
Enric Stern and Jaume Roura were sentenced after burning photographs of the now-abdicated King Juan Carlos I in Girona in 2007.
As a first offence, their custodial terms – of 15 months each – did not have to be served as they were less than two years, but they were later substituted by a fine of €2,700 each.
A series of appeals through the Spanish court hierarchy failed, and the two men turned to Europe.
Strasbourg has ordered Spanish authorities to refund their fines, with interest, and their €9,000 in legal costs.
The ECHR says their right to freedom of expression have been violated under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Considering a 'political criticism or protest' of this nature to be 'hate speech' was 'too wide an interpretation' of the definition and therefore 'harmful to the values of plurality, tolerance and openness that are an essential part of any society that considers itself democratic'.
The judges in Strasbourg said burning the photographs was 'not through a desire to launch a personal attack against the King' but was 'a criticism' of what the monarch represented and, whilst the two men's behaviour was indeed 'provocative', with the 'clear aim of attracting media attention', it still fell within the confines of freedom of expression.
The photograph-burning was not an attempt to encourage the committing of violent offences against the King, but was a 'symbolic act' of the men's opinions 'within the context of a debate concerning a matter of public interest', or the institution of the Crown.
Neither did the men's actions involve any public disturbance - even though this did, in fact, occur during a street protest on the same subject, it was several days later and unconnected with Stern and Roura.
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