On April 29, 2013, a Spanish court dismissed a hate speech charge filed against Imran Firasat. While this is an important victory for Freedom of Expression, Imran's case is far from over. He is still under the threat of having his refugee status revoked by the Spanish government for his critique of Islam. Should he be deported to Pakistan, Imran will face certain death for his conversion from Islam to Christianity.
European hate speech laws have become a tool for Islamists to silence discussion on any Islamic related topic deemed blasphemous or offensive against Islam or Muhammad. Typically a local Islamic community leader files a report with the police claiming that a specific action or statementwas "insulting." The police may then pass the report to the prosecutor under whose discretion criminal charges may be filed in court. Should the trial proceed, the defendant could face a fine or incarceration.
Imran's case was initiated when Helal Jamal Abboshi Khaledi, the General Security of the Union on Communities in Spain, filed his initial hate speech complaint on November 27, 2012 with the Spanish National Police. Under oath, Khaledi informed the police that "there is a person from Pakistan who is spreading propaganda against Islam and its Prophet," which could lead to "confrontation between Muslims and other religions." Two days later, Khaledi "add(ed)" in a a new complaint that Imran had insulted the Spanish Muslim community by "associat(ing)" Islam with "9/11 attack in the United States, the 11 March attack in Madrid and the 7 July attack in London." The Spanish Chief of Police next submitted the complaint to the Prosecutor's office with his endorsement for a criminal trial.
The fact that Khaledi could use hate speech laws to initiate a prosecution exemplifies the absurdity of the case. While Khaledi made sure to mention in his complaint that Imran was born in Pakistan, Khaledi is a Spanish immigrant from Jordan. Following the Madrid bombing, Khaledi went on a media offensiveto draw distance from the local Islamic community and the Islamist bombers and co-conspirators, praising Spain's reaction as more "mature" than Americas to the 9/11 attack in an April 5, 2004 quote to the Chicago Tribune. A week later, local Spanish pressreported that Khaledi had accepted 5,890 Euros from the "alleged treasurer of Al Qaeda in Spain," to be used as "donations for Palestine." In his two police complaints, Khaledi made repeated references of "confrontations," "angry reactions," and "consequences which could become violent" which the Spanish Chief of Police considered serious enough to launch the frivolous trial.
Firasat faced charges over his work with "The Innocent Prophet" film, which was made with Pastor Terry Jones who supported the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" project.(Youtube)
The criminal case was dire for Imran. Under Subchapter 1 of the Spanish Criminal Code, ironically titled "On the Felonies Committed when Exercising the Fundamental Rights and Public Liberties Guaranteed by the Constitution," Article 510 states "(t)hose who provoke discrimination…shall be punished with a sentence of imprisonment from one to three years and a fine." The Legal Project, an activity of the Middle East Forum, coordinated Imran's local defense counsel Claudio Lobos Villanueva. Mr. Villanueva argued that the charge was meritless as Imran had repeatedly informed the police of his activities, specifically the website which the prosecution cited as the basis for trial. Further, Khaledi failed to testify in court which precluded him from facing cross-examination. On these bases, Magistrate Judge Vega Cueva Esteban quickly dismissed the charges on April 29th, a month after the charges were filed.
Judge Estaban's decision also has the potential to overturn the Spanish Interior Ministry's revocation of Imran's refugee status. Judge Estaban's decision stated that Imran is "not a national security risk" to Spain. The Interior Ministry's revocation was made on the grounds that Imran's activism is a risk against Spanish interests. The appeal of the Ministry's decision, which The Legal Project is also coordinating, can use Judge Estaban's decision as the basis to overturn the Ministry's despicable revocation. Also, Imran's deportation case has gained international prominence, with signatories from across the globe signing a petition to "keep Imran's refugee status."
Imran's predicament is the first two-prong attack against a European for exercising Freedom of Expression in discussing the Islamist threat engulfing Europe. While Imran is no longer facing incarceration, he is still under the threat of awaiting death for his Christian conversion in Pakistan. Should the Spanish High Court re-instate Imran's refugee status, his victory will not only save his life but also help ensure the right in the West to freely discuss the Islamist threat.
Sam Nunberg serves as Director of the Legal Project at the Middle East Forum.