Spain’s prosecutor general is proposing a change to the country’s criminal code so that hate crimes committed via social networks are no longer only punishable by jail sentences. In recent years there have been a number of high-profile court cases where people have been handed prison terms for having posted racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic messages on social networks such as Twitter, prompting a widespread debate about the limits of freedom of speech under Spanish law.
The criminal code lays out jail terms of up to four years for anyone who publicly incites hatred for reasons of gender, race, religion or other circumstances
The proposal from prosecutor general María José Segarra would see prison sentences for such cases reduced, as well as the inclusion of alternative measures imposed by a judge in situations where, “due to the context, lack of repetition or personal characteristics or circumstances of the author,” such harsh punishment is not appropriate.
The article in question of the criminal code lays out jail terms of up to four years for anyone who publicly incites hatred for reasons of gender, race, religion or other circumstances. In cases where the offense has been committed via social media or on the internet, the minimum sentence is 30 months. Sentences of two years and under are almost always suspended in Spain in the case of first-time offenders.
The prosecutor general believes that the current legislation is too “severe” and disproportionate. “Experience shows that many of these cases are committed by people who do not belong to criminal groups or organizations, but rather post messages on social networks that are deeply offensive or humiliating for certain collectives of people for xenophobic, religious, homophobic or other reasons, and may have acted impulsively or recklessly,” the proposal reads.
The law currently impedes bargains where the defendants can plead guilty and thus avoid trial
The prosecutor general adds that many of the authors of such offenses are prepared to admit the facts once they have been identified by the police, but that given the current seriousness of the sentencing guidelines, it is not possible for prosecutors and defendants to negotiate an admission of guilt and avoid trial.
Alternatives proposed by the prosecutor general include fines, a loss of political rights, or community work related to the offense committed, and that would allow for “social reinsertion via getting to know and accepting their victims.”
The prosecutor general cited examples such as making authors of anti-semitic remarks visit a Holocaust memorial or work in organizations or collectives that represent victims.
English version by Simon Hunter.