Terrorism investigation into Catalan journalist raises concerns ahead of…

Terrorism investigation into Catalan journalist raises concerns ahead of elections

Journalists and media freedom organisations express concern over the investigation for terrorism of Catalan journalist Jesús Rodríguez Sellés, now residing in Switzerland. The investigation, lasting for four years after the alleged crime, coincides with negotiations over the amnesty law for pro-independence leaders. Fearing politicisation of the case, the Media Freedom Rapid Response partners call for a review of the investigations’ circumstances, allowing Rodríguez Sellés to continue his journalism freely.

The partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response today expressed concerns over the terrorism investigation by the Spanish authorities of journalist Jesús Rodríguez Sellés. The journalist left Spain for Switzerland citing a lack of guarantees for practicing his profession and the threat of arbitrary arrest in Spain.


Rodríguez Sellés is an award-winning Catalan journalist working for La Directa. In November 2023, after four years of judicial investigation he was named an official suspect of terrorism offenses for allegedly assisting in the organisation of the Tsunami Democrátic protests in October 2019. The movement was a reaction to a decision by the Spanish National High Court jailing Catalan separatist leaders over their roles in the failed bid to split from Spain in 2017.


The protests saw violence erupting in Barcelona, where protesters were accused of attacking police officers and vandalism, while the police used batons, teargas and rubber bullets against the protesters, including journalists, leading to several injuries.


On April 9, 2024, the High Court ordered Rodríguez Sellés to provide his formal address, so that he could be summoned to testify when the judge requested it. Two days later, Rodríguez Sellés announced that he had left Spain for Switzerland in order to ‘preserve his freedom’ and to be able to continue his work as a journalist. He added that he was being persecuted for ‘doing his job’.


Rodríguez Sellés is closely associated with the Catalan independence movement. He is also a prominent and respected journalist who has, among other things, exposed police crimes, abuse of power and persecution of dissent.


Rodríguez Sellés took the police to court following his assault in 2016 by riot police, leading to the conviction of one officer to a two-year prison term. The officer’s appeal is pending before the Spanish Supreme Court. Rodríguez Sellés is also pursuing a complaint against two other officers for committing perjury during the initial trial.


The investigation into the 2019 demonstrations had been ongoing for four years with no visible progress. Spanish authorities finally announced formal suspects two days after the announcement of a publicly divisive amnesty plan for separatist leaders.


The charges against Rodríguez Sellés are not formally related to his journalism. However, we are concerned that, given his record of exposing police crimes that have embarrassed the state, and in view of the political context in which the investigation was launched as well as the extreme and disproportionate nature of the charges in question criminalising dissent under the guise of anti-terrorist legislation, this investigation may be politically motivated and may also be an effort to restrict his journalism.


We therefore call on the Spanish authorities to immediately pause the investigation and to conduct a thorough and credible review to ensure compliance with fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, and proportionality. MFRR partners will continue to follow this investigation closely.

Signed by:

  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Spain: Fine against photographer underscores urgent need for reform…

Spain: Fine against photographer underscores urgent need for reform of Gag Law

The undersigned organisations of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today express serious concern over the recent €1,000 fine issued to Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Javier Bauluz under Spain’s controversial “Gag Law”. Our organisations believe this fine represents another example of the need for the Spanish government to urgently reform the most problematic elements of the law in line with international human rights standards to protect freedom of expression and the freedom of the press.

In November 2020, the photographer had been documenting the arrival of thousands of refugees and migrants to Gran Canaria. As he attempted to take photographs one morning of the arrival of a rescue boat at the port in Arguineguín, he was approached by two police officers. Video footage appears to show one of the officers grab him by the arm and demand he leave the public area. After Bauluz protested, the police issued him with two fines for “disrespecting an agent” and “refusing to identify himself”.


More than a year and a half later, Bauluz finally received a 960 fine for the two charges under Article 36.6 and Article 37.4 of Spain’s Law on the Protection of Citizens’ Safety – dubbed the “Gag Law”. Bauluz rejected the fines and said that police had limited press access to the arrival centre, unjustifiably limiting the ability of the press to properly document the situation at the centre, which had been criticised for unacceptable conditions. There is no option to appeal the administrative sanctions.


Bauluz is one of the many journalists, photographers and activists in Spain who have been fined under the 2015 Gag Law for alleged behaviours that would endanger the work of law enforcement authorities. Among other rules, the legislation allows authorities to fine journalists and media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police. Media freedom groups and human rights organisations have repeatedly criticised the law for violating freedom of expression and leading to arbitrary sanctions against journalists and media workers like Bauluz.


In December 2020, the Spanish Parliament started a long awaited discussion over the reform of the law. However, unfortunately this has not led to any tangible results so far, despite being one of the promises in the manifesto of the current government. The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic has expressed her concern over the text of the suggested bill, which she considers insufficient to fully comply with Spain’s human rights obligations. In January 2021, the Constitutional Court validated the law’s compliance with constitutional principles, except for the provision referring to prohibition of unauthorised recording of law enforcement operations.


In the wake of the fine issued against Bauluz, MFRR partners again urge the Spanish government to push forward and undertake a comprehensive reform of the Ley Mordaza in line with international human rights standards. Our organisations also call for the fine against Bauluz to be immediately withdrawn. It is vital that all barriers that hamper the ability of journalists and photojournalists to carry out public interest work and document potential rights abuses are removed. Until this legislation is reformed, press freedom in Spain will continue to suffer.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Plataforma por la Libertad de Información (PLI) [Platform for the Defence of Freedom of Information]
  • FAPE (Federación de Asociaciones de Periodistas de España)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Ignacio Sanchez Galan, CEO of energy company Iberdrola, announces the 17,6 million euro lawsuit against El Confidencial. Library

Spain: Energy company launches €17.6 million SLAPP lawsuit against…

Spain: Energy company launches €17.6 million SLAPP lawsuit against El Confidencial

International media freedom groups express concerns. The undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) today condemn the vexatious SLAPP lawsuit against the newspaper El Confidencial by the Spanish electricity company Iberdrola, which is claiming €17.6 million for alleged “reputational damage”. The MFRR partners see the lawsuit as another example of the urgent need for the introduction of anti-SLAPP legislation at the EU and national levels and reform of the current legal provisions on protection of honour and reputation in line with international freedom of expression standards.

On 4 February 2022, multinational energy company Iberdrola filed a lawsuit at the Court of First Instance number 4 of Bilbao against Titania, the publisher of El Confidencial, for its coverage of the relations between the company and a convicted former police commissioner. El Confidencial is accused of having carried out “an authentic smear campaign and media harassment” against the company and its president. The company said the reporting was an “illegitimate interference in the right to honour”, which had “very serious reputational damage to the company”. The company quantifies the alleged damage caused at €17,600,000 and said it reserves the right to adjust this figure upwards if new defamatory information is published. Our organisations strongly condemn these extortionate demands and see the lawsuit as a retaliatory attempt to silence the newspaper and its reporting on an important matter of public interest.

Since October 2019, El Confidencial, which has 200 staff members and around 22 million unique monthly visitors, has published a series of audio clips and documents revealing Iberdrola’s payments to the retired police commissioner José Manuel Villarejo, who became the centre of a national scandal after it was revealed he had spied on and blackmailed dozens of prominent Spanish businesspeople, politicians, judges, activists, and unions for over 20 years. The recordings and published documentation by El Confidencial referred to covert operations financed by the electricity company, including espionage of political leaders, maneuvers against environmentalists, and surveillance of union leaders by the company itself.

After the publication of the articles by El Confidencial, several current and former directors from Iberdrola were marked as ‘under investigation’ by the National High Court, including its executive president, Ignacio Sánchez Galán, and the group’s subsidiary, Iberdrola Renovables.

According to Iberdrola, El Confidencial has published “too much news” about the Villarejo case and disapproves of the fact that some news items were closed exclusively to subscribers, which would multiply the reputational damage of this information, since it would “prevent most readers from going past the headline and accessing the nuances included in the text of the news”. ARTICLE 19 has documented the phenomenon of SLAPPs against journalists in Spain in a recent SLAPPs report and identified a number of recommendations for reform of the legal framework that are currently misused to threaten journalists.

MFRR partners see this legal action by a large private company as a serious SLAPP lawsuit aimed at intimidating and silencing an independent media outlet in Spain. We join national journalist organisations such as the Federation of Associations of Journalists of Spain (FAPE), the Association of Journalists of Economic Information (APIE), the Association of Investigative Journalists (API) and the Plataforma por la libertad de información (PLI) in expressing solidarity and support to the newspaper and its journalists. The MFRR partners also condemn the extortionate demand for damages, which could bankrupt the newspaper should it lose the case and in the meanwhile generates exhorbitant financial and psychological pressure to the staff.

We therefore see this lawsuit as a clear example of the urgent need for SLAPP regulations on EU and national levels, and for a reform of the current legislation on protection of honour and reputation in Spain. We call upon Iberdrola to swiftly withdraw this absurd lawsuit. We encourage judges to follow the rules of good faith under Article 247 of the Spanish Civil Procedure Law 1/2000 to ensure that journalists and media outlets do not face unnecessary civil proceedings as a result of ill-founded or meritless claims, brought with the sole aim of silencing or intimidating the exercise of freedom of expression.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Members of the Spanish National Police check travelers upon arrival to Alicante, Spain, 22 October 2021. EPA-EFE/MORELL Library

Spain: Press freedom in 2021: Towards the end of…

Spain: Press freedom in 2021: Towards the end of the ‘gag law’?

Public Safey Law, online harassment remained key challenges for journalists in Spain last year

Plataforma por la Libertad de Información (PLI)

In a guest article for IPI, the Spanish free expression organization Plataforma por la Libertad de Información (Platform for Freedom of Information, PLI) summarizes key trends in press freedom in Spain in 2021. At the top of the list: the country’s ‘gag law’ continues to be applied against journalists, even as lawmakers mull a partial repeal of the widely criticized measure.

In a year that witnessed a record number of fines under the controversial Law on the Protection of Public Safety (known as the “gag law” due its negative impact on free expression), the Spanish Parliament finally took steps to approve a fundamental reform of the law. It is hoped that in the first half of 2022 the provisions most detrimental to press freedom and the right to protest will be repealed.

PLI has reacted cautiously to the agreement on this partial repeal out of fear that some of the most dangerous clauses with respect to freedom of the press and free expression may nevertheless be maintained.

The Law on the Protection of Public Safety has been criticized since its approval in 2015 by PLI and by international groups such as IPI as well as by organizations such as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the U.N. Human Rights Committee for its generic provisions that allow for the law to be arbitrarily applied by the police. It has since been used in Spain against activists and journalists, especially those covering protests and demonstrations.

According to the most recent available statistics, fines for disobeying or resisting authority or failing to identify oneself (Article 36.03 of the law) grew 20-fold between 2019 and 2020, from 12,645 to 243,001. This article is among those most frequently applied against journalists (especially photojournalists), and has a clear negative impact on press freedom, as PLI has reported.

On the other hand, there were only 50 sanctions in 2020 (the most recent year for which figures are available) for the “unauthorized use of images of police in the exercise of their function” (Article 36.23) – though this nevertheless represented a 30 percent increase compared to 2019. In December 2020, the Spanish Constitutional Court found this article to be unconstitutional and eliminated it. However, this nullification has not led to greater freedom for journalists during the past year, who continue to be fined under Article 36.03. In fact, we started 2022 with the case of Catalan photojournalist Mireia Comas, who was fined for refusing to delete photographs after she was ordered to do so by a police officer.

Another of the law’s provisions applied against journalists is Article 37.04 on displaying lack of respect to the police. There were 14,782 fines under this provision in 2020 amounting to a total of 2,384,693 euros.

Last year, once again, it was photojournalists and journalists who cover protests that suffered the biggest blows. Blows in the literal sense, like the police violence that Guillermo Martínez reported experiencing (he was later investigated for providing false testimony, despite presenting a medical report and video evidence supporting his account), and blows in the form of fines. The chilling effect from these types of measures limits the ability of journalists to do their jobs freely.

One of the most prominent cases is that of El País photojournalist Albert García, who at one point faced a prison sentence. Later, prosecutors withdrew that demand but maintained a fine for resisting authority. In November, we got the news that García had finally been acquitted.

Safety of Spanish journalists

In April 2021, two Spanish journalists lost their lives while doing their job: David Beriain and Roberto Fraile were murdered in Burkina Faso. Spanish foreign correspondents also faced difficulties reporting last year from Cuba and Gaza.

Inside Spain, the blot of online harassment and attacks on female journalists on social media continues to be one of the biggest concerns for journalists, women, and organizations that defend freedom of expression. Ana Pastor,  Ángels Barceló and Anna Bosch are just three name on a list that grows year after year. María Tikas is another journalist who was forced to live this terrible experience last year.

But journalists weren’t much safer inside the newsroom: Alicia Gutiérrez and news site Infolibre were charged with the revelation of secrets.

Elsewhere, the media outlets El Confidencial and Cuarto Poder reported that the Spanish electricity company Iberdrola withdrew advertising from the newspapers after they published information about it.

PLI also gave its support to Crónica Global in a case of the right to be forgotten and to various independent media that suffered cyberattacks that left them offline for several days.

Freedom of expression

Regarding freedom of expression and the persecution of artistic expression, a woman was fined for participating in a 2013 procession that featured a plastic vagina.

Another prominent case was that of singer Pablo Hasel, who remains in prison after being sentenced to nine months on charges of glorifying terrorism and insulting the crown and state institutions for his song lyrics and messages on Twitter in which he attacks the monarchy and the police.

He wasn’t the only singer who faced censorship. The municipality of Toledo yielded to the pressure of the far-right party Vox and removed a concert poster of the singer Zahara dressed as the Virgin Mary. The artist Pamela Palenciano faced another year of criticism, insults, and threats for her theatre monologue “It’s not only the blows that hurt” (No solo duelen los golpes).

There was also a serious case of censorship in which a judge in Castellón ordered the removal from schools of books with homosexual content.

Finally, a joke in poor taste led to well-known comedian David Suárez facing court for an alleged hate crime.

Positive news

In positive news, the family of journalist José Couso, killed in Baghdad in 2003, won a court victory and will finally receive compensation.

It’s also worth mentioning the consolidation of fact-checking media in Spain, which play an essential role in the fight against disinformation. This includes both dedicated ones (such as or Newtral) as well as those initiated by existing media themselves such as “EFE Verifica” or “Verifica RTVE”.

This article was first published by the IPI as part of Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Spanish Flag SLAPPS Library

ARTICLE 19 published Report on Spain: SLAPPs – legal…

Article 19 published Report on Spain: SLAPPs – legal harassment against journalists

Journalists and media outlets in Spain are facing multiple lawsuits for exposing corruption, reporting on matters of public concern or covering protests. Known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs, public officials, businessmen, politicians or police officers typically initiate these lawsuits. They do so to evade public scrutiny, and to harass or subdue journalists who expose their wrongdoings.

Those who file such suits aim to drain the target’s financial and psychological resources and to chill critical voices. These costly civil lawsuits target journalists, activists, or whistle-blowers, in other words, individuals, who are often ill-equipped to defend themselves. As a result, public debate within Spanish society is under threat.

In its latest report, ARTICLE 19 looks at the scope and interpretation of criminal and civil law provisions used to bring such legal actions against journalists and the media. We also examine current Spanish laws that are misused to file these suits, and look at patterns across key cases. Finally, we identify the defences and procedural safeguards that the Spanish Government needs to implement to prevent more SLAPPs.

Key findings from the report reveal:

Over broad legal provisions in the Spanish Penal Code are open to abuse which limits free expression for all

The Spanish Penal Code contains a number of problematic speech-related offences. These include criminal insult and defamation, offences against public officials and public institutions, and revelation of secret information. Despite the fact that the Courts are dismissing prosecutions for defamation and overturning convictions, the very existence of over broad legal provisions leaves them open to abuse,  creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

People with power target journalists simply for doing their jobs

The Spanish courts have set out relevant defences the media can use when doing their work. These include defences for ‘reasonable publication’ or ‘public interest’. They have also stated that public officials should tolerate a higher level of criticism than private individuals. Despite this, public officials who mismanage funds still misuse laws on honour, privacy, and reputation to target journalists.

Criminal prosecutions and abusive civil lawsuits have implications for the financial sustainability of the media

Firstly, many journalists face permanent threats of criminal sanctions simply for doing their work. Secondly, they must bear the costs of legal proceedings.  In addition, they bear the negative consequences of investigations, sometimes for years, until a verdict is reached and regardless of the result of the judicial proceedings.


ARTICLE 19 considers that the Spanish Government should review the laws that limit people’s right to freedom of expression. This will prevent public officials, institutions, and influential individuals from bringing SLAPP cases against journalists and the media.