Calling a matador a murderer can prove a costly business in Spain but it is alright to say a bullfighter kills bulls.
That was the controversial ruling of Spain’s Constitutional Court, which fined a left-wing former mayor €7,000 for labelling a bullfighter a ‘murderer’.
Datxu Peris must pay compensation to the widow and family of Victor Barrio for violating his right of honour, the court ordered.
In 2016, Barrio became the first bullfighter to be killed in the ring in 30 years when he was gored to death at a fight which was shown live on television.
Doctors could do nothing to save Barrio after he was struck by a horn at a fight in Teruel, eastern Spain.
Hours after his death, Peris wrote on Facebook that it was “positive” that Barrio was left to die because he was an “assassin”.
She was not the only one to come up with such incendiary opinions; opponents of bullfighting sent vitriolic messages on social media celebrating the matador’s death.
The reaction to Barrio’s death came to symbolise how a more radical anti-bullfighting movement has gained prominence in Spain in recent years.
However, others including King Felipe VI and the then Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, paid tribute to the dead bullfighter.
Raquel Sanz, the bullfighter’s widow, launched a legal battle to punish those who celebrated the matador’s death.
Under Spanish law, the family of a dead person can defend the right to honour that person’s memory.
However, Santiago Martínez Vares, the judge who headed the panel in the constitutional court, ruled that the expression “murderer” could not be considered a proper exercise of freedom of expression.
The judge said the expressions used by the former mayor were “unnecessary, disproportionate and lacking any link to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression”.
“To publicly defend an anti-bullfighting position, it is not necessary to describe Victor Barrio as a murderer or oppressor on social media and show relief and his death.
“Freedom of expression cannot be an instrument to undermine the dignity of a human being since it stands as the foundation of political order and social peace.”
After the sentence, Peris was unrepentant.
“You can call a bullfighter a killer but you cannot say he is a murderer when he murders,” she said during an interview with Publico, a Spanish newspaper.
“I didn’t say the death of (Barrio) was positive. I said that there were many negative aspects to his death but there was one positive, that this man stops killing. The sad thing is that to stop killing he has had to go to these extremes. I never said that his death was positive,” she added.
Peris said she would do the same thing again.
“I feel bad that I have hurt the parents of (Barrio) or worsened the pain of his loved ones but the responsibility for this is not mine. My Facebook page was closed. Somebody leaked it to the media for a clear reason.”
Raquel Sanz, Barrio’s widow, said she was relieved that the court had defended her late husband’s honour.
Spanish bullfighter Roca Rey in action during a bullfight on occasion of the Cordoba Fair in Cordoba, Andalusia
“As a journalist I defend the right of expression so if people are against bullfighting they should be able to express this. But this cannot mean that it is used to subject a person to abuse because it is then undermined. It then undermines our system of justice,” she told The Independent.
“I am relieved and so is Victor’s family as this case has gone through all the courts.”
Spaniards have a mixed attitude towards bullfighting, with some regarding it as an art form, while others see it as cruel.
The bloody spectacle has been in decline in recent years as left-wing councils have refused to stage bullfights and an animal rights movement has gained prominence in Spain.
A 2020 poll was published by Electomania, a survey company, which found that 47 per cent of Spaniards were in favour of banning bullfighting while 18.6% opposed prohibition and 37 per cent opposed bullfighting but did not want it to be banned.