A criminal offence, or a crime, is a type of wrongdoing that offends against not just a specific victim, but also society as a whole. Robbery, for example, is a crime because not only has the victim been forcefully deprived of their property, but because society will not tolerate violent theft. As criminal behaviour affects the whole of society, it is the role of a public prosecutor to charge and prosecute the alleged offender and bring justice to the victim and society.
The description above is a paraphrased definition of criminal behaviour that I found on the website of a lawyers’ association. I looked it up because I wanted to be sure about what a crime actually is after reading the interview we publish this month with the rapper Valtònyc (pages 22 to 25). The 26-year-old singer from Mallorca talks about his current situation in exile in Belgium, where he is facing extradition to Spain to serve three and a half years in prison for such offences as glorifying terrorism and slandering the Crown in his songs.
I’m no lawyer, and I have no doubt that I’m clearly out of my depth when it comes to commenting on legal procedures of which I have little experience or understanding. However, looking at Valtònyc’s case and reading his words, I must say that I’m hard-pushed to see where the crimes he was convicted for are. The rapper said some rather unpleasant things in his songs — which in the interview he himself says was “nonsense” spouted by an 18-year-old — and is now being pursued by the Spanish judiciary, which wants to lock him up in prison.
According to our definition of a crime above, criminal wrongdoing must include behaviour that not only offends against a victim, but against society as a whole. While as a cynical 52-year-old man I’m sure I would absolutely hate Valtònyc’s songs, what offends me far more as a member of society is that the authorities in the country I live in, and in which I’m bringing up my children, are willing to put people in prison for years because they said something they don’t like, and what’s more in the context of a song.
The court in Belgium dealing with Valtònyc’s extradition case initially threw out the request on the grounds that it is a freedom of speech issue. Damn right it is. I presume we all want to live in a society that is as free as possible, and I don’t see many people around me desperately trying to emigrate to places like China or Burma. In fact, I see the response of the Spanish authorities as far more threatening to society than some stupid songs I can just ignore if I want. And being a tightwad, nor do I appreciate the authorities wasting public resources that come out of my wages every month on pursuing some kid who wrote some daft songs that don’t mean anything. I can go out today and buy Hitler’s Mein Kampf, for god’s sake, and that would be perfectly legal, even though the book promotes the extermination of an entire people.
Because of the whole independence issue, we are constantly being told how Spain is a full democracy and an advanced society that has earned its place among the community of states that respect and uphold human rights and basic liberal principles like freedom of expression. Yet, talking the talk is easy, and words – as Valtònyc would no doubt point out – are just words. What I imagine we would all like to see is the state to which we have devolved so much of our power and wealth also walking the walk.