On Friday, two puppeteers in Spain were jailed, without bail, for staging a satirical puppet show during the Carnival celebration. The show included both violence deemed inappropriate for children and a message described as “praising terrorism,” which is illegal in Spain.
Critics of the arrest say it was an attack on free speech and demand the immediate release of the puppeteers, Alfonso Lazaro de la Torre and Raul Garcia Perez.
According to the Associated Press, parents had complained about inappropriate material in the puppet show, including “the hanging of a judge’s effigy, the stabbing of a nun with a crucifix and police beatings.” The Spain Report adds that the puppet nun was raped during the performance.
The mayor of Madrid, retired judge Manuela Carmena, agreed that the show was not suitable for children, faulting local administrators for failing to review the show’s content before billing it as appropriate for all ages.
The Spain Report says that Carnival program managers will be fired over their decision to hire the puppeteers, with Madrid City Hall Culture Councillor Celia Mayer declaring, “We are absolutely outraged.”
It would also seem fair to ask why the puppeteers did not tone down their act a bit when they saw they were billed as an all-ages performance during a major event.
The more serious legal issue facing the performers is the charge of glorifying terrorism, which stems from a sign they carried reading, “Long Live Alka ETA.” This is a play on the standard slogan of the Basque terrorist group ETA, adding “Alka” as a reference to al-Qaeda.
The Spain Report adds that the cover of an anarchist book called Against Democracy was found among their possessions, although it is not clear if they had a copy of the book itself.
AFP reports that a support group for terrorism victims called AVT filed a complaint against Mayor Carmena and the City Hall Culture Councillor, as well as the puppeteers, calling the performance “a clear and serious offence to the memory of terrorism victims, an act of humiliation and contempt in which the use of violence is trivialized.”
“Spain’s caretaker national government run by the conservative Popular Party backed the arrests but critics including some opposition politicians said it was an attack on freedom of speech,” reports the Associated Press.
“Are we aware that right now there are two people in prison for having performed a play? Really terrifying,” declared Alberto Garzon, head of the far-left United Left coalition, as quoted by AFP.
The mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, also question the arrests on Twitter, saying the play was in “bad taste” but shouldn’t be treated as a criminal offense.
Madrid’s Mayor Carmena agreed there was “some incomprehension” over the measures of “surprising gravity” taken against the performers.
On Wednesday, a court ordered de la Torre and Perez released from jail, although they’ll have to surrender their passports and show materials and report to the court daily while under investigation. If they are convicted of “glorifying terrorism,” they could face up to three years in prison, while the charge of “inciting hatred” could carry a sentence of up to four years.