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Gibraltar Government files criminal complaint against Spain's far right party Vox for inciting hatred against Gibraltar

REUTERS/Susana Vera

The Gibraltar Government has filed a criminal complaint against four leaders of the Spanish far right party Vox, accusing them of inciting hatred against Gibraltar and its people.

The complaint, filed with prosecutors in Spain, names four senior Vox politicians including the party’s leader, Santiago Abascal; its general secretary, Javier Ortega Smith; Vox MEP Jorge Buxadé Villalba; and retired army general Agustín Rosety Fernández de Castro, the VoX MP in Cádiz.

It centres on statements and social media posts in which all four make disparaging claims about Gibraltar that the government says amount to a sustained campaign targeting the Rock and the Gibraltarians.

They range from descriptions of Gibraltar as "a leech" or "a parasite", to unfounded accusations that Spanish workers are "held hostage", or that the Rock is a den of "money launderers" and "criminals", Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told Parliament.

“These are the sorts of practices that were employed in the 1930's in Germany by the National Socialists and Hitler in whipping up aggression against the Jewish people,” he said.

“These are the sorts of practices we have seen in the Balkans at the time of ethnic cleansing.”

“And this is the underlying reality of the tactic that is playing out now in relation to the Gibraltarians in the discourse being promoted by Vox.”

“That is why we have to make a stand now.”

The complaint highlights that Vox’s leader in La Linea, Jose Romo, resigned recently over concerns that statements by the party leadership were inciting hatred toward Gibraltar.

It also alleges that comments made by Vox leaders in recent weeks provoked online reactions that were “extraordinarily clear” in “explicitly and specifically” urging violent action against Gibraltar.

The Gibraltar Government has also asked Spanish prosecutors to investigate the online group ‘Gibraltar Español’, accusing it of spreading “unjustified allegations” against Gibraltar and of being “an avid echo-chamber” for Vox’s anti-Gibraltarian propaganda.

The government will also raise the group’s “puerile content” directly with the social media platforms that host its exchanges.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said Gibraltar was “deeply committed” to the principle freedom of expression but would not stand idly by in the face of such statements.

“We will not accept that this fundamental freedom should be abused by those who mean to cause us harm by inciting hatred against the people of Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo said.

“There is an important dividing line between the right to speak one's mind, however much we may disagree with the views expressed, and the incitement to hatred, libel, slander or defamation.”

“We will not allow anyone to cross that line unchallenged and we will take every recourse available to us all and each of us, in every tribunal available to us all and each of us, in order to counter those attempts we perceive to incite such hatred.”

“History has seen these moments pass before without those who have raised the temperature in this way remaining unchallenged.”

“That won't happen on my watch and whilst my Cabinet colleagues and I are responsible for the discharge of our affairs.”

The criminal complaint was filed in line with Article 510 of the Spanish Penal Code, which deals with offences of incitement to hatred.

In common with most European and developed countries, Spanish law punishes hate crimes.

The Gibraltar Government said it was mindful of “a long and dark history in Europe” where minorities had been targeted by extremist political ideologues.

“The outcomes of some of those campaigns of hatred are an indelible blot on European history and the Government of Gibraltar will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the promulgators of anti-Gibraltarian hate are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place said.

Vox, which surged to become Spain’s third-largest party after winning 52 parliamentary seats in November’s general election, campaigned on a fiercely nationalist platform that includes Gibraltar’s return to Spanish control. On Wednesday, it took less than an hour to react to news of the complaint.

“@FabianPicardo does not like to hear the truths we say about Gibraltar,” said Mr Rosety in a tweet.

“He accuses us of hatred. It is not hatred, it is a denunciation of the damage that the colony of Gibraltar does to our province and our country.”

“We are not scared of him, he will not shut us up.”

This is not the first time that Gibraltar has used the Spanish courts to counter defamatory statements about Gibraltar and the Gibraltarians.

In 2014, the Supreme Court of Gibraltar ruled that Miguel Bernad and his Manos Limpias union had defamed Mr Picardo by falsely accusing him of condoning smuggling, drug trafficking and money laundering.

That ruling was later upheld by a Spanish court in Madrid, which ordered Bernad to pay damages.

Mr Picardo said the Vox and Manos Limpias statements were “out of the same playbook”, adding that the judgement against Bernad demonstrated the importance of using the rule of law to counter such defamation.

“It had the effect of restraining the statements being made [by Manos Limpias],” he said.

Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition, told Parliament he supported the complaint against Vox, although he asked the Chief Minister for additional detail on the substance of the complaint.

The Gibraltar Government, which said it had waited until after the Spanish election to file the complaint, said it would not make it public out of respect for the judicial process, but agreed to share it privately with the Opposition.

Mr Azopardi said that “deeply divisive, hateful and repugnant comments” against Gibraltar did not help to foster better cross-border relations.

Marlene Hassan Nahon, the leader of Together Gibraltar, also offered her party’s “unwavering support” for the Gibraltar Government in its action against Vox.

“Hatred is an evil that has to be stamped out,” she said.

“Every single one of us has a duty not just to condemn it, but to root it out.”

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