FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Spanish actor Willy Toledo acquitted of offending religious sentiment

A Madrid court found that while the activist’s Facebook posts may have been in “bad taste,” they were not unlawful

Spanish actor Willy Toledo during the trial.
Spanish actor Willy Toledo during the trial.Kike Para

Spanish actor and activist Willy Toledo did not offend religious sentiment when he published two Facebook posts in which he said that he “defecated on God and the Virgin Mary.” That was the ruling announced on Friday by Madrid Judge Sonia Aguda Torrijos, who acquitted the actor of the charges brought against him by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers.

The ruling, which can be appealed, marks a turning point in a legal process that began in 2017. The case stems from a Facebook message that Toledo posted on July 5, 2017, which 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.”

It is evident that the purpose of the text is not to offend religious sentiment
Judge Sonia Aguda Torrijos

He posted this message shortly after the beginning of a trial in Seville against three women who had paraded a large model of a vagina around the city as though it were an Easter religious procession. The women called this event “the procession of the Insubordinate Pussy.”

In response, a court case was filed against him by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers for offending religious sentiment. The association called for Toledo to be sentenced to a 22-month fine.

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.”

During the trial, Toledo argued in court that the Facebook post was not intended to offend religious sentiment, but was instead “a plea in defense of my colleagues’ freedom of expression.”

Judge Aguda Torrijos supported this theory, ruling that “it is evident that the purpose of the text is not to offend religious sentiment, but rather to defend what he considered to be the actions of his colleagues.” While the magistrate recognized “the lack of education, bad taste, and profane language” used by Toledo, she said that this style “characterized” the actor’s social media publications and was not a crime.

My intention was to exercise my right to freedom of expression. Not to offend anyone
Spanish actor Willy Toledo

A second Facebook post, published ahead of Spain’s National Day on October 12, was also included in the case. In this instance, Toledo used similarly strong language to express his rejection of the celebration, which commemorates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ first arrival in the Americas. “I shit on the discovery [of America]. I shit on the greedy and murderous conquistadors. I shit on the Virgin of El Pilar and I shit on everything that it makes move. Nothing to celebrate. A lot to defecate. Good night,” he wrote in a message on Facebook.

In court, Toledo maintained that both Facebook messages had a “political context.” “My intention was to exercise my right to freedom of expression. Not to offend anyone. Not Catholics, or Muslims or even followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

In her ruling, dated February 21, Judge Aguda Torrijos said that it had to be “taken into account that the publications were written by the accused [Toledo] on his Facebook page, meaning that they were addressed to his followers, people who share the ideas of the accused and appreciate his special literary style.” The judge added that the principle of in dubio pro reo – in which a defendant cannot be convicted when doubts about their guilt remain – also applied to Toledo’s case, given the prosecutors could not prove the actor intended to offend religious sentiment.

“Thinking is not a crime”

During the trial, Toledo told the court: “My words could offend, just like homophobic and sexist expressions offend me. But it has never occurred to me to persecute anyone for their political thinking.”

Although the public prosecutor initially supported the case against the actor, it later called for Toledo’s acquittal, arguing that the right to freedom of expression must be prioritized.

Toledo’s legal team celebrated the acquittal as a “victory of the right to freedom of expression.” “Thinking is not a crime, and the written or verbal expression of a thought (except to incite violent hostility against certain groups) must not be a crime in a country that is meant to respect basic rights,” Toledo’s lawyer Endika Zulueta said in a statement.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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