Belgium will not extradite rapper Valtonyc, who was sentenced to prison for lyrics that praise terror groups and insult the Spainish monarchy. The case has raised concerns that Madrid is cracking down on free speech.
A Belgian court on Monday ruled that Spanish rapper Valtonyc should not be extradited to Spain, where he has been sentenced to prison for writing lyrics that praise terror groups and insult the royal family.
The 24-year-old rapper, whose real name is Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran, was supposed to begin serving his prison sentences, totaling three-and-a-half years, in May but instead fled to Belgium.
"The judge has decided there will be no extradition and discarded all three charges," his lawyer Paul Bekaert told reporters near the court in the city of Ghent.
Bekaert said the judge ruled "there is no terrorism involved, there is no incitement of terrorism, so there is no question of a crime according to Belgian law."
The judge ruled that the other charges against Valtonyc also did not warrant extradition, Bekaert said.
"I am very happy as finally we have found justice. We have been looking for it for a long time, and in Spain we did not get it," Valtonyc said.
"So it's good that here they ruled in our favor, that here freedom of expression is important, but I'm very sad that in Spain justice is not evolving," the rapper said.
Prosecutors said they would appeal the decision.
Cracking down on free speech
Valtonyc's case has sparked criticism from rights groups that claim Spanish authorities are cracking down on freedom of expression.
Activists have decried the way prosecutors have overreached in using Article 578 of the criminal code to punish anyone who "glorifies terrorism" or insults the monarchy.
The accusation of praising terror groups stems from a song that referred to the Basque country, which was understood to be a nod to the separatist group ETA.
Since 2015, the number of people charged under Article 578 has risen exponentially, leading to 70 convictions in the last two years alone, according to Amnesty.
In 2017, 39 people were brought before courts on charges of praising terrorism on social networks.
"Sending rappers to jail for song lyrics and outlawing political satire demonstrates how narrow the boundaries of acceptable online speech have become in Spain," Esteban Beltran, the director of Amnesty International Spain, said in March.
ap/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)