Belgium's highest appeal court has ordered a repeat of the extradition hearing based on an offence of lèse-majesté - insults against royalty - by the rapper Valtònyc. The Court of Cassation, considering the appeal lodged by Belgian prosecutors, has asked for a review of the Ghent Court of Appeal's decision on the crime of insults against royalty, one of the three offences related to the content of song lyrics for which Spain had sought the extradition of the Mallorcan rapper. The court, rejected the prosecutors' call for reformulation of the decision on offences of glorification of terrorism and death threats. This means that the extradition procedure for the performing artist, real name Josep Miquel Arenas, remains open, pending a new trial in the Belgian court.
This was the last chance for the Belgian prosecutors to keep alive the claim for the musician's extradition, following the forceful decision of the Ghent Court of Appeal, which ruled that none of the three crimes were punishable in Belgium. In order to execute a European Arrest Warrant (EAW), the offence for which the extradition is sought must be comparable in the two countries involved in the process, under European regulations.
In the case of glorification of terrorism, the court rules that it does not exist in Belgian law. In fact, the Ghent Court of Appeal had already asked the European Court of Justice whether it could accept fast-track extradition for this crime, as requested by the Spanish authorities. Luxembourg said no and, therefore, on this point it was concluded that the conduct "is not punishable" in Belgium.
Following the rapper's court victory on December 28th, when the Ghent Court of Appeal denied his extradition on the grounds of an alleged death threats in a song lyric, the prosecutors persisted in their efforts to obtain the rapper's extradition for glorifying terrorism and insulting the crown. Although this initially seemed unlikely, given the two negative rulings, the Belgian prosecutors went to the higher Court of Cassation, and in particular, argued that the Ghent court had not sufficiently justified the offences of glorification of terrorism and lèse-majesté to be "not punishable under Belgian law".
Spanish justice seeks the return of Valtònyc to serve a sentence of three and a half years in prison for the three offences, all based on the words to his songs. At the end of December, the Ghent Court of Appeal ruled that none of the three crimes were punishable in Belgium and therefore denied extradition to Spain: Valtònyc had beaten the state and celebrated it by making a very eloquent gesture. As well, the decision of the Ghent court made significant international impact.
Terrorism and 'lèse-majesté'
The ruling states that there is no crime in Belgian law of glorifying terrorism. In fact, the Ghent Court of Appeal had asked the European Court of Justice whether it could accept fast-track extradition for this crime, as requested by the Spanish authorities. Luxembourg said no. For this reason, the text merely recalls that such conduct is "not punishable" in Belgium. On the other hand, the crime of insulting royalty did exist in a Belgian statute dating from 1847, which imposed sentences of up to three years in prison for an offence, according to the decision of December 28th.
However, the same court had doubts about the applicability of this law and asked the Belgian Constitutional Court whether it was legal. This court ended up ruling that the 1847 law was unconstitutional, because it does not respect freedom of expression and violates the European Convention on Human Rights.
Puigdemont shows solidarity
Catalan president in exile Carles Puigdemont has shown solidarity with the rapper and fellow-exile. He noted the positives aspects of today's decision: that the Belgian high court has "definitively ruled out" the crimes of glorification of terrorism and death threats as grounds for extraditing the Mallorcan musician. Puigdemont wished Valtònyc "strength and courage" to face this new passage through the courts: "Always by your side, Josep".
Gonzalo Boye, the lawyer representing Josep Miquel Arenas, alias Valtònyc, also sees it as "a good decision" that the Belgium court has ordered a repeat of the trial over the EAW in relation to the crime of insulting royalty because "at least" it definitively rules out the singer's handover for the lyrics relating to terrorism and death threats. "Those two grounds have now been ruled out," he said in statements on the programme La tarda de Catalunya Ràdio. The singer's lawyers have not yet been able to read the sentence, which so far has only been communicated orally to the parties. “When we have it, we’ll see what we are facing,” Boye said, assuring that Valtònyc is relaxed about the decision. The lawyer said that there was still "a long way to go" in the case.