Death of bullfighter highlights Spain’s divide over animal rights

Legal action to be brought against opponents of bullfighting who posted hate messages on social networks

The funeral of Víctor Barrio.
The funeral of Víctor Barrio.Pablo Martín (EFE)

Spain’s Fighting Bulls Foundation, one of the country’s leading organizations for the promotion and legal protection of bullfighting, says it will take legal action against individuals who used the social networks to mock the death of torero Victor Barrio in the aftermath of his fatal goring in the ring on Saturday.

In a press statement issued on Tuesday morning, the organization said it had already contacted the police regarding charges of slander, defamation and incitement to hatred.

The foundation said it was acting on behalf of Barrio’s family and would take all legal measures available. “There can be no impunity for these acts,” said the statement.

Barrio, a 29-year-old professional matador, died after a horn pierced his chest during a crowded bullfight in the town of Teruel, in the eastern region of Aragon. His death was shown live on television. He is the first Spanish bullfighter to die in the ring since 1992.

To prevent future generations from embracing the sport, legislation in Catalonia makes bullfights R-rated: children under 14 can no longer attend bullfights

So far, opponents of bullfighting have posted more than 50 messages on the social networks celebrating Barrio’s death, along with insults aimed at his widow and family.

“Many of these messages are crimes punishable by law through prison sentences of up to 14 months, aggravated by the publicity they have received through their dissemination on the social networks,” said the foundation in its statement.

It added that it was calling on bullfighting aficionados to contact the foundation regarding any message, tweet or other communication related to Barrio’s death.

The foundation said it would be seeking institutional support from the office of Spain’s ombudsman, as well as the culture, justice, and interior ministries “to guarantee the observance of the law and respect for the bullfighting world.”

Declining popularity?

The popularity of bullfighting has been in decline over the last two decades.  Between 2007 and 2014, the number of bullfights held in Spain dropped by almost two-thirds, according to the Culture Ministry. On the other hand, other kinds of bull-related events, typically held during local fiestas, grew in number.

Animal rights groups have been increasingly active in rallying opposition to bullfighting, reflected by the decision of some city and town councils to withdraw financial support for the sport.

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Animal rights groups say that less than 10% of Spaniards attend bullfights, pointing to similar television audience shares.

In 2004, Barcelona declared itself “an anti-bullfighting city,” and in 2007, an animal-protection law prohibiting new bullrings went into effect throughout the entire northeastern region of Catalonia. To prevent future generations from embracing the sport, the law also made bullfights R-rated: children under 14 can no longer attend. Aficionados say that with each move against bullfighting, the chance that new generations will embrace this most Spanish of spectacles is reduced, and that it will soon die out.

 English version by Nick Lyne.

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