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Javier Bardem sounds free speech warning in Spain

© AFP | El actor español Javier Bardem (izq) y su compañero Guillermo 'Willy' Toledo antes de una rueda de prensa en la parroquia madrileña de San Carlos Borromeo, el 22 de mayo de 2018

MADRID (AFP) - 

Spain's Oscar-winner Javier Bardem warned Tuesday that the country risked a return to the era of dictator Francisco Franco as concerns mount over freedom of expression with artists probed or jailed for voicing their opinions.

"It seems to me that being able to (legally) punish (an opinion) is a setback that harks back to the era of Franco," he told reporters in Madrid.

Bardem has offered support for actor Willy Toledo, who is due to be questioned by a Madrid judge for alleged blasphemy.

Toledo, 48, has refused to appear before the judge after being summoned over a Facebook message in which he defended three women tried for blasphemy after they paraded in the southern city of Sevilla with a giant vagina, simulating a religious procession.

Over the past months, several Twitter users and rappers have also been judged -- and some of them jailed -- for glorifying terrorism or insulting the king for comments or lyrics, a "repression" of freedom of expression according to Amnesty International.

"From the perspective of constitutional law or freedom of expression, we don't understand that you can... go after someone for giving an opinion, it's dangerous," Bardem told reporters in a church.

He said that while some may not "agree" with Toledo, it was dangerous to "penalise thinking", which he warned was happening in Spain "in a hidden, calm but constant manner."

"I shit on god, and I have enough shit left over to shit on the dogma of 'the sanctity and virginity of the Virgin Mary'," Toledo, a cinema and television actor, wrote on Facebook.

He was denounced by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers for "covering god and the Virgin Mary with ridicule."

Toledo did not answer a first summons for questioning on April 18.

"I haven't committed any offence and so there is no need to appear before a judge," he said.

The Madrid court has summoned him again on June 28 and has warned he can be detained and forced to appear.

Those found guilty of blasphemy can only be fined as the offence doesn't carry a prison sentence.

But Xavier Arbos, a constitutional law professor at the University of Barcelona, has warned there is a clear "regression with regards to freedom of expression."

"We're sending a message that groups which feel offended can restrict (people's) freedoms via criminal law, and that's very negative."

© 2018 AFP