The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) this Tuesday ruled that burning photos of monarchs is an act of free expression. Similarly, it ordered Spain to compensate the two young men from Girona on whom the National Audience court had imposed 15 months in prison, later changed to a 2,700 euro fine (£2,390, $3,350). The ECHR concludes in its ruling, unanimously approved by its judges, that the Spanish state shows authoritarian behaviours. It's clear that we're facing a new hit from the European courts to sentences previously issued by the Spanish justice system, surely resolved at the time with a "today, sentence is brought in Spain and Europe will decide in due time". When? When the case is no longer current and the harm caused, to a large extent, is irreparable.
In this case, we're talking about events which took place in September 2007, with as many as three rulings from Spanish courts, all of them against the two young men, including the National Audience and the Constitutional Court. And Europe now unequivocally decides that the Constitutional Court had illegally limited the two young men's freedom of expression and their ability to politically criticise the head of state, its main aim being to protect him.
In recent years, the ECHR has issued various rulings against the Spanish state, some of them as far reaching as the one relating to the former speaker of the Basque Parliament Juan Maria Atutxa and two members of the Parliament's Bureau for refusing to dissolve the parliamentary group of the Sozialista Abertzaleak party for its alleged links to Batasuna, considered to be the political wing of ETA. Despite the Basque Country's Court of Justice's acquittal, the Supreme Court ended up condemning the three in 2003. Last June, the European court knocked down the Supreme Court's ruling. It was one of the five setbacks Spanish justice faced from the European Court of Human Rights in 2017, a significant number, but lower than the 12 in 2016. Also from 2017 was the sentence against Spain for carrying out immediate returns of immigrants from Ceuta and Melilla as violating the European human rights treaties.
What's the importance of all of this? In the field of political immediacy, certainly none. Political life is the present moment and if Spain's courts are slow as it is, the overturning sentence from a European court takes many years. The Spanish government and justice system take advantage of this causing absolutely unjust and anomalous situations like that of the Catalan political prisoners, the impracticality of the candidacies of Carles Puigdemont and Jordi Sànchez to be invested as president of Catalonia by the Parliament, the refusal for Sànchez to leave prison for his investiture, or the anomalous situation of the Supreme Court holding politicians in prison and resisting from issuing European Arrest Warrants for fear they will be denied by the justice systems in other countries.
For all these reasons, the CEHR's sentence is a ray of hope in the middle of the obstacles on every side which nobody knows how to move aside.