A Madrid judge has decided to press ahead with a court case involving Spanish actor and activist Willy Toledo, in which he is accused of offending religious sentiments by insulting God and the Virgin Mary in messages posted on Facebook.
Toledo was arrested on September 13 on orders from the judge, after he failed to appear in court on two prior occasions to answer questions about the case in a preliminary probe. After spending a night in the cells, and then appearing before the judge the next morning, he was released. Outside the courthouse he told reporters that he didn’t believe that he had “committed any kind of crime,” and that, by forcing the police to arrest him, he was staging “an act of civil disobedience.”
A court case was filed against Toledo by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers for offending religious sentiment
The case dates back to July 5, 2017, when Toledo published comments on the social network criticizing the fact that three women were facing their own court case after they paraded a giant model of female genitalia – dubbed “the Insubordinate Pussy” – through the streets of Seville, imitating religious processions that are common throughout Spain.
In his comments, Toledo said: “I shit on God and have enough shit left over to shit on the dogma of the holiness and virginity of the Virgin Mary. This country is unbearably shameful. I’m disgusted. Go fuck yourselves. Long live the Insubordinate Pussy.”
In response, a court case was filed against him by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers for offending religious sentiment.
In his writ the judge states that there are “sufficient reasons” to prosecute Toledo for these two Facebook messages. “They contain potentially offensive phrases for the Catholic religion and its practitioners,” he writes. “Devoid of any critical sense.”
Article 525 of the Spanish Criminal Code sets out monetary fines for those who offend the feelings of the members of a religious confession
The judge did rule out, however, further investigation of two other Facebook publications, from April and July 2017, in which Toledo commented on Easter religious processions and “dogmas of the immaculate conception and perpetual virginity.” These comments, the judge ruled, fell within freedom of criticism. “They may be considered harsh, bitter, coarse or rude, but given that they were made within the context of criticism of a religious denomination, they should be considered as protected for their freedom of expression.”
Article 525 of the Spanish Criminal Code sets out monetary fines for those who offend the feelings of the members of a religious confession by “publicly disparaging their dogmas, beliefs, rites or ceremonies.” The same penalties are applicable to those who publicly disparage people “who do not profess any religion or belief whatsoever.” If found guilty, Toledo could be fined over a period of eight to 12 months. He will not face jail time.
After news of the judge’s decision not to shelve the case emerged, Toledo responded on Facebook. “The esteemed magistrate believes that, after the police have checked hundreds of the publications on my Facebook wall, that there are two expressions on there that could constitute an offense against religious sentiments,” he said.
The decision by the judge was greeted with satisfaction by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers. Its president, Polonia Castellanos, said that it was “logical” and “normal” for the judge to proceed with the case. “I expected this decision from the magistrate,” she said. “I believe that Mr Toledo has got much worse. Instead of trying to mediate an apology, he has fallen into a constant repetition of the same offense with all of his public statements.” She continued saying that Toledo had committed “attacks that are more and more deliberate and intense” against religious sentiments.
Willy Toledo has been involved in a number of controversies over the years. In 2013, he announced that he was leaving Spain to move to Cuba, expressing words of praise for the country’s government, as well as for former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, during a television interview. “It moves me, coming from Europe, where we are victims of rampant capitalism, arriving in Latin America where there are these humanist processes that have improved the lives of the people,” he said at the time.
That same year, Cuban athlete Orlando Ortega defected to Spain and opted for Spanish nationality. After he won a medal at the Río de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, Toledo took to social networks, calling Ortega a “worm,” adding that: “Rome does not pay traitors, something that every Cuban should be aware of.” The incident cost Toledo a month without access to his Facebook account, after the social network opted to temporarily shut it down.
In 2010, Toledo entered Congress, Spain’s lower house, along with five other activists during a parliamentary session. The group shouted slogans in favor of the freedom of Western Sahara, the disputed territory in North Africa. A court case over the incident was shelved a year later.
English version by Simon Hunter.