Belgium refuses extradition of fugitive Spanish rapper

A court in Belgium on Tuesday rejected a request by Spanish authorities to extradite a fugitive rapper sentenced to jail for allegedly praising terrorism in his songs.

Belgium refuses extradition of fugitive Spanish rapper
"Valtonyc" poses for pictures as he leaves the court in Ghent where judges rejected a request by Spanish authorities to extradite him. Photo:

Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran — better known as “Valtonyc” — fled to Belgium in 2018 after being handed a three-and-a-half year jail term on charges of glorifying terror, insulting the king and making threats in his lyrics.

“Victory! After three years of legal procedures, a detour to the European Court of Justice and to the Belgian Constitutional Court, the Court of Appeal rules that Valtonyc cannot be extradited,” the rapper’s lawyer Simon Bekaert wrote on Twitter.

“A good day for music and freedom of expression.”

Bekaert said the appeals court in the city of Ghent had ruled that the offences were not a crime under Belgian law.

The rapper, 28, said he was “finally free and happy” after having been subject to regular police checks as he battled against a European arrest warrant.

“I’m not a terrorist and the court has proved me right,” he said.

Beltran was sentenced for lyrics in songs published online in 2012 and 2013 at a time when he was a little-known rapper in the Balearic Islands.

These included: “Let them be as frightened as a police officer in the Basque Country” and “the king has a rendezvous at the village square, with a noose around his neck.”

The reference to the Basque Country was understood as a nod to violence by ETA, the separatist group that for decades staged attacks across Spain that left more than 800 officials and civilians dead.

His lyrics divided opinion in Spain, with some saying they would not land him in jail in any other democracy, while others stress that free speech has its limits.

The case is one of a number that has sparked pressure on the Spanish authorities to ease harsh punishments for alleged “crimes of expression”.

Protestors clashed with police in Spain in February over a jail term handed out to another rapper Pablo Hasel for tweets insulting police and the monarchy.

Belgium is also at the centre of another high-profile extradition case involving the Spanish authorities over fugitive Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont.

Puigdemont has been living in Belgium since 2017, after fleeing Spain to avoid prosecution over a failed Catalan bid to declare independence.

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European court restores immunity of Catalan MEPs

The European Court of Justice restored the parliamentary immunity of exiled former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and two of his allies Tuesday, in a victory over Spanish authorities.

European court restores immunity of Catalan MEPs

Puigdemont and fellow MEPs Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati face jail in Spain for their roles in organising a banned Catalan independence referendum, and in March the European Parliament stripped them of their legal protection.

But on Tuesday, the vice president of the court issued an order to provisionally “suspend the execution” of the lifting of the immunity while judges prepare to study the case.

“Today we have another positive result,” Puigdemont tweeted, promising to face down Madrid from exile “no matter how uncertain things are and no matter how colossal the strength of the Spanish State. No surrender”.

Puigdemont led efforts by Catalonia’s separatist regional government to stage an independence referendum in October 2017 despite a ban by Madrid. The vote was marred by police violence.

Several weeks later, the Catalan administration issued a short-lived declaration of independence, triggering a political crisis that prompted Puigdemont and several others to flee.

Some Catalan figures who stayed behind were arrested and put on trial, with nine of them jailed for between nine and 13 years.

Although those jailed were pardoned earlier this year, Madrid still wants Puigdemont and the others to face justice over the secession bid. Puigdemont lives in Belgium.

Puigdemont enjoyed immunity for a time after being elected to the European Parliament in 2019, but that was lifted by the parliament in March in a decision upheld in July by the EU’s General Court.

The higher court, the ECJ, will now consider his case.