Spain

Court Dismissed Claim of Incitement of Hatred against Activists for Palestine

Published on Mon Jan 18 2021 - modified on Fri Mar 12 2021

Read our summary in Catalan

On 11 January 2021, the Provincial Court of Valencia (Audiencia Provincial de Valencia) definitely dismissed the judicial investigation initiated by the criminal complaint filed by the Legal Committee for the Fight against Discrimination (Comitè Legal para la Lucha Contra la Discriminatión) against eight activists in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The defendants had conducted a campaign to question the recruitment of Matisyahu at the Reggae Festival Rototom Sunsplash in 2015, because of his support for the Israeli policies towards the Palestinian people. In the Judgement, the Court acknowledged that the activists’ conduct did not constitute a hate crime as their questioning of the singer was a political criticism, protected by the right to freedom of expression, as recently affirmed by the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Baldassi and others v. France (2020).

In 2015, Matisyahu, an American- Jewish singer with a long and public record of support for the discriminatory practices and policies implemented by the State of Israel, was invited to perform at the Rototom Sunsplash, the most prominent European Reggae festival. The festival openly promotes “peace, equality, human rights and social justice” as “key values to understand not only the festival but life in general”.

In light of the contradiction between the festivals values and Matisyahu’s public record of support for discriminatory practices, the activists, on 2 August 2015, began a campaign to denounce the festival’s incoherence and to question the singer’s recruitment.

The Festival organisers initially cancelled Matisyahu’s performance; however, the singer was later re-invited due to pressure exercised by the Israeli and American embassies on the organisers. On 22 August 2015, Matisyahu performed at the festival.

Since 2016, the activists have been investigated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Valencia for hate crimes according to Article 510 of the Spanish criminal code. Following the end of the investigation, on 18 August 2020, the Committee filed an “Escrito de acusaciòn” to the Investigating Court n. 19 of Valencia (Juzgado de Instrucción nº 19 de Valencia) asking the official indictment of the activists for having promoted and incited hatred against Matisyahu.

In July 2020, the Public Prosecutor requested to dismiss the case, however, in late September 2020 the Investigating Court denied the dismissal, thus, paving the way for the trial.

The defendants’ lawyers, with the support of the ELSC, appealed this decision before the Provincial Court of Valencia, which overruled the previous verdict and dismissed the case.  The Court dismissed the case before the defence were able to present their brief.

In its ruling, the Provincial Court of Valencia upheld the claims of the defendants’ lawyers and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, acknowledging that criticism of Zionism and Israeli Government’s practices upon the Palestinians does not constitute incitement of hatred. Objecting to a singer’s participation in a festival which is committed to the respect of human rights, based on his personal support for the practices of the State of Israel, is not criminal, but reflective of a legitimate form of activism in support for Palestinian rights.

For a comprehensive overview of the case, please read our Executive Summary.

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