Madrid, July 6, 2021: Human rights groups and politicians in Spain have spoken out after a court ruled that a controversial and false election poster for the far-right Vox party should not be withdrawn because it is legitimate political expression, and because the unaccompanied foreign minors it depicts in a relentlessly negative light are “an obvious social and political problem”.
The poster, which Vox used as part of its campaign in May’s bitterly contested Madrid regional election, was put up in a busy rail station in the capital and shows a hooded and masked dark-skinned youth alongside a white Spanish grandmother. It incorrectly suggests that refugee and migrant children in state care receive 10 times more in benefits each month than the average Spanish grandmother does in pension payments.
The propaganda refers to unaccompanied migrant minors by the often pejorative Spanish acronym of menas, and reads: “€4,700 a month for a mena. €426 a month for your grandmother’s pension.” A slogan underneath urged madrileños to “protect Madrid” and “vote for safety”.
An investigation was launched to determine whether the poster constituted a hate crime, and the public prosecutor appealed to the Madrid provincial court to have the poster withdrawn as a precautionary measure.
The court, however, rejected the appeal on the grounds that the poster was an election slogan. The ruling, seen by El País, added: “Independently of whether the figures provided are true or not, [foreign migrants] represent an obvious social and political problem, with consequences and effects on our international relations, as is well-known.”
The judges also suggested the poster could be seen as a wider criticism of the costs of pensions compared with the costs of maintaining unaccompanied minors.
They went on: “The sharing of certain ideas shouldn’t be seen as criminal unless their final aim is to threaten, injure or disdain. While it may be critical, it is legitimate as long as it is expressed in a manner that does not lead to the aforementioned illegal ends.”
The Catalan branch of Amnesty International said Vox’s use of “hate speech against unaccompanied migrant children in a situation of helplessness” needed to be tackled.
“We need to confront the language that stigmatises refugees and migrants and which seeks to legitimise a discourse of racism, hatred, and xenophobia,” it said.
If that didn’t happen, it added, such language would continue to be used to spread fear and prejudice.
Hana Jalloul, a former secretary of state for migration and now the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party spokesperson in the Madrid regional parliament, said the poster was “racist” and incited hatred against a vulnerable group.
“Let’s not forget they’re children we’re talking about,” said Jalloul. “This is a typical poster from the racist, radical far-right.”
The conservative People’s party said that while it respected the court’s decision, “whether or not we agree that [the poster] is right as a key argument in an electoral campaign is another matter entirely”. The centre-right Citizens party called the poster “demagogic and populist”, while the far-left, anti-austerity Unidas Podemos party said that criminalising children “runs contrary to democratic normality”.
Vox welcomed the court’s decision and said illegal immigration was “a real problem” that affected many Spaniards.
This article was originally published in the Guardian.