And if that sounds a little unusual in a 21st century EU country, then the lèse-majesté law is several degrees weirder
In the ‘Eighties, when I was in my twenties, like many others I listened to a lot of punk rock, starting with the Sex Pistols’ scream of ‘God save the Queen/And the Fascist regime’, through to Crass’s anti-Falklands War chant addressed to Mrs Thatcher ‘How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead?’ (followed up by the lesser-known but equally unforgettable ‘Sheep Farming In the Falklands’ which described the war as ‘Another page of British history to wipe the national arse’). And let’s not forget anarchist Ian Bone’s song about the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, ‘Dum-dum Bullets For a Dum-Dum Dummy’, or the Poison Girls’ famous attack on police control and prejudiced judges: ‘Persons Unknown’. Etcetera. Many or most of these songs contained obscene language, and attacked the powers that used to be mercilessly. And got away with it. To express anger and outrage, to brutally lampoon the Royals, to denigrate military action in a time of war, and generally to stick the verbal equivalent of two fingers up at the Establishment in all its many guises, was a popular pastime back then. On one occasion, the police did confiscate some copies of Crass’s ‘How Does It Feel’ from several record shops, but it would never have occurred to the Old Bill - or anyone else for that matter - to sentence the musicians involved to several years in the slammer. And yet this is exactly what has just happened to the rappers Valtònyc from Majorca (three and a half years) and Pablo Hasél from Catalonia (two years, with a possible further three years if he can’t pay an additional €40,200 fine - which he can’t). Both are accused of ‘exaltation of terrorism’ and lèse-majesté. The first misdemeanour carries a minimum punishment of three years for ‘direct provocation or incitation to commit terrorist acts’, according to article 578 of the Spanish penal code. As Amnesty International Spain has pointed out in a report published last month entitled ‘Tweet If You Dare’, article 578 enables the police to arrest and charge an all but limitless swathe of tweeters and musical artists who - wittingly or not - have transgressed the bounds of what the state regards as politically appropriate. And if that sounds a little unusual in a 21st century EU country, then the lèse-majesté law is several degrees weirder. A mere insult to the King is regarded as a hate crime for which you should be put away for at least 18 months. (Valtònyc’s own sentence consists of two years for ‘exalting terrorism’ plus one and a half for cocking a snook at his Majesty). And to think that in London, 35 years ago we delighted in calling the Great and the Good every name under the sun, because we knew that we were young and therefore more powerless than most but also that we could at least speak irreverently to power without fear of reprisal. Thank Christ we weren’t living in Spain today.