Valtonyc Speaks Out Against Spain's Censorship Laws at Barcelona's No Callarem Conference

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People protesting demanding freedom of expression after rap artist Valtonyc was convicted to three and a half years of prison for the lyrics of his songs. 

Rapper Valtonyc, facing a three-and-a-half year sentence for his lyrics, was one of the featured speakers at the event.

Rapper Valtonyc, whose rhymes have brought him a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence from the Spanish Supreme Court for his lyrics, was a featured speaker Thursday (April 12) at a week-long conference on freedom of expression in Barcelona.

The choice of venue for the event, set to culminate with a music festival on Sunday (April 15) with over 35 acts, was itself a comment on the punitive censorship which Spanish officials have recently imposed on artists, social media users, publishers and even a puppet show. The series of talks, exhibitions and concerts was held at the Model Prison, an infamous urban penitentiary that has long symbolized Spain’s late dictator Francisco Franco's repression of Catalonia during his decades long reign.

On Thursday afternoon, graffiti artists were spraying the walls of the prison’s exercise yard. Other artists had installed their work in the small concrete cells which collectively once held a reported 13,000 prisoners in the facility originally designed to hold 850. An organizer of the event pointed out the spot where Salvador Puig Antich, the last of many who opposed the regime to be executed here, was killed with the use of a garrote in 1974.

The two-block long Catalan Modernist building -- known as La Modelo -- was a prison for 113 years before it was closed in 2017. It is now open for visits while the local government determines its fate. The building’s patio has been refurbished and declared a public space.

Valtonyc (pronounced “Valtonick”) was on stage in the small theater of the prison, which had also offered inmates a one-chair barbershop and a tiny library. Joining Valtonyc in the public discussion were Cassandra Vera, who received a one-year sentence for tweeting jokes about Franco-era prime minister Luis Carrero Blanco, who was killed by a car bomb attributed to the Basque separatist group ETA in 1973. Fernando Rapa -- co-founder of the satirical magazine Mongolia, which was fined 40,000 Euros in a slander case after creating a poster lampooning a well-known bullfighter -- spoke alongside them. Vera was absolved of the charges against her last month; Rapa’s case is on appeal.

All three defendants said the judges in their cases had told them that if they apologized, their charges would be dropped. They did not.

"The judge asked me, 'Do you think that with your songs you are doing good or bad?' Voltonyc told the audience. "That is a political question."

Valtonyc, whose real name is Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran, was sentenced for “inciting terrorism” and insulting the King of Spain and other members of the royal family in songs posted on YouTube under a 2015 Spanish law that limits freedom of speech, prohibits mass gatherings and invokes fines for protesting and comments on social media. The Ley Mordaza was ostensibly put in place as a "public safety law" to assist in the fight against terrorism.

“Calling me a terrorist is nonsense,” the rapper said.  “My songs don’t hurt anyone, I haven’t killed anyone. I rap about things that happen, but I’m not a participant.”

Valtonyc, who is 24-years-old, will enter prison in May if he is not pardoned by a federal constitutional court.

Calling today’s Spain a “fascist state,” he said that his encounters with the law have incited his activism: “They use terrorist laws to justify censorship ... I could have kept quiet, but I’ve chosen to speak out.

"For me, all music is political," he added. "Especially rap. Rappers who talk about things like cars and money are also expressing a political opinion: The opinion of the exploitive class, of Capitalism."

Organized by a collective of social and political activist groups, the week-long initiative to provide a forum for a public discussion about freedom of expression, called No Callarem (“we won’t be quiet” in Catalan), encompassed events at other venues in Barcelona. They were among many actions organized around Spain this week to support freedom of expression and to protest the actions of the Spanish government.

In Catalonia, a movement against repression by the state has heated up among the population since pro-independence voters were met with violence from police when they went to cast ballots during a referendum on secession that the Spanish authorities declared illegal. Pro-independence leaders remain in jail since their October 2017 arrests.

“People are mobilizing,” Valtonyc said. “Everyone has that right.”